New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party’s shake-up of the Punjab Police has given the border state its fifth police chief in 10 months along with a completely new leadership at key positions of core policing.
While the erstwhile Congress rule saw the exit of three police chiefs, the AAP dispensation shunted out a director general of police (DGP) and brought in a replacement.
While the officiating police chief Gaurav Yadav, a 1992-batch officer, is a batchmate of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and was principal secretary to Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, three officers from the same batch were also promoted to the DGP rank. The officers now heading key positions like intelligence, law and order, and security, are from the 1997, 1993 and 1994 Indian Police Service (IPS) batches, respectively.
The constant overhauls, however, at a time when Punjab is facing major law and order challenges — whether it is the grenade blast in Ludhiana or the killing of singer Sidhu Moose Wala — have resulted in no senior police officer being in one position for more than three-four months at a stretch.
The rejig is not just limited to senior rungs.
A major reshuffle of over 400 officers, including deputy superintendents of police and superintendents of police as well as at the station house officer-level, has been done since March, when the AAP government took over. A similar exercise took place under the Congress’ Charanjit Singh Channi after he took over in September last year.
While the AAP plays down the reshuffle as a routine affair when administrations change, former police chiefs say frequent reshuffles are “suicidal” for a crucial and sensitive border state like Punjab.
After Channi took over from Amarinder Singh, then DGP Dinkar Gupta proceeded on leave and Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota, a 1988-batch IPS officer, was appointed as officiating Punjab DGP in September.
After Sahota, 1986-batch officer S. Chattopadhyaya was brought in for less than a month. Considered close to the then Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, Chattopadhyaya was shunted out by the Channi government following an alleged “security lapse” during the Ferozepur visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January this year.
V.K. Bhawra of the 1987 batch then took over as Punjab DGP. In less than six months, Bhawra was facing heat for the rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attack on the Punjab Police headquarters and the murder of Sidhu Moose Wala in May, following which he sought for a central deputation in June and proceeded on leave.
Gaurav Yadav was then brought in as acting police chief. His appointment will have to be confirmed by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
An officiating DGP can be appointed for a maximum of six months. Within this period, the government sends a list of IPS officers to the UPSC, which then suggests three candidates, of which one is made the police chief.
‘Uncertainty is the biggest enemy of policing’
Speaking to ThePrint, a former Punjab DGP said “uncertainty” is the biggest enemy of policing.
“Every government wants their own men in power. They all do these rejigs after taking over but what they don’t realise is that such uncertainty is suicidal for a state like Punjab, which is facing so many challenges — whether it is gangsters, weapons, drones, drugs or terrorism,” the former DGP added.
“In such a situation, when people can see that law and order is deteriorating, radical elements are getting emboldened, it is important that there is a stable police chief with a vision. If the police chiefs keep changing, the officers at senior levels — ADGP or even SPs and DSPs — keep rotating, who will work?”
This sort of “musical chairs is dangerous”, the officer said. “In this situation, the support from politicians, and a strong police leadership is required. If you play with Punjab without realising the implications, which seems to be happening, then you are in for surprises.”
Former Punjab Police chief S.S. Virk said a DGP has to lead the force and not be seen as “weak”.
“What we are seeing now is an example of political police and not professional police. If senior officers are shunted at the drop of a hat, the system will crumble like a cookie. Why was V.K. Bhawra held responsible for the AAP’s defeat in the Sangrur bypoll? What message will it send out to the force?” he asked.
Virk said the “reason for that defeat was Sidhu Moose Wala’s murder and the deteriorating law and order situation”.
“But when the AAP trimmed Moose Wala’s security, it was advertised as a positive move to end VIP culture. And when he was killed, the blame was shifted onto the police. Why?”
Blaming Bhawra for the Sangrur defeat shows “immature attitude by AAP”, he added.
“You do not blame DGs for political debacles,” Virk said. “The entire force looks up to the DG and if that chair appears to be this weak and under pressure from the political leaders, why would his force listen to him?”
Virk added that if this is the AAP’s attitude, “that too in Punjab, it will not work and also talks poorly of the government leadership”.
AAP’s Punjab chief spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang, however, said the government’s priority was to bring in a strong leadership and that is the reason why reshuffling was done.
“Whichever government comes to power, does reshuffling. Nothing much should be read into this,” he added. “It is unfortunate that Punjab was politically volatile in the last few months, but everything should fall in place with a stable government now in power. Our priority is to give Punjab the best officers.”
Kang added the government does acknowledge that the law and order situation needs to be brought under control but it cannot happen “overnight”.
“We know there are problems, and we are working. Nothing changes overnight. From making a separate anti-gangster task force to acting against organised crime, which was missing in earlier governments, (it) is happening now,” he said.
New leadership of 1990s — a generational shift
Gaurav Yadav, the acting DGP, has superseded senior officers to head Punjab Police.
In the senior leadership, Dinkar Gupta (1987 batch) went on central deputation to head the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Prabodh Kumar (1988) was removed as intelligence chief and posted as special DGP (Punjab State Human Rights Commission), Chandigarh, and Sanjeev Kalra (1989) was posted as special DGP, Home Guards.
Parag Jain (1989) is also on central deputation and is posted as an additional secretary with the Cabinet Secretariat, while Bhawra (1987) is awaiting central deputation.
Besides Yadav, officers currently in key positions are — Inspector General of Police (IGP) Jatinder Singh Aulakh (1997), who has become the intelligence chief and will look after the work of additional director general of police (ADGP) in the rank of IGP, Ishwar Singh (1993) posted as ADG law and order, and Sudhanshu S. Srivastava (1994) posted as ADGP security.
Three officers from the 1992 batch — Sharad Satya Chauhan, Harpreet Singh Sidhu and Kuldeep Singh — have been promoted to the DGP rank.
While Chauhan has been appointed as chairperson-cum-MD, Punjab Police Housing Corporation, Sidhu is posted as special DGP (STF) in addition to special DGP (prisons), and Singh given the charge of special DGP (internal vigilance cell).
Kang said the AAP’s priority was to put officers with a “clean image” in important positions. “Our attempt is to post officers with a clean record at important positions and that is what we have done,” he added. “It has already started giving results.”
(Edited by Tony Rai)