New Delhi: In a video clip that went viral on Twitter this week, before history-sheeter Vikas Dubey was killed in an encounter Friday, Bihar Director General of Police (DGP) Gupteshwar Pandey is seen issuing a warning to the gangster, who was then on the run.
If he visits the state, he said, he will be shown how police hunts down a “sher (lion)”.
“Sher ka shikaar kaise hota hai usse bataya jayega (He will be shown how a lion is hunted down),” Pandey said in his inimitable style, a reaction to some people allegedly calling Dubey “Brahmanon ka sher”. In the video, which was shared widely by police personnel, IAS officers and journalists, Pandey goes on to criticise the “apradh ki sanskriti (culture of crime)” that makes people hero-worship criminals belonging to their own community.
“People have been hailing members of their own caste, who have committed rapes, murders, heinous crimes, as heroes. These people have been offering prayers to such seasoned criminals and chanting their names. This is how you perpetrate the culture of crime,” Pandey says.
It is not the first time, however, that Pandey has referred to “apradh ki sanskriti”. In another video that went viral in December last year, Pandey had lambasted those who support criminals of their caste or religion, welcome them with garlands, and then blame police for crime.
It is no coincidence, though, that the videos of this 1987-batch IPS officer from Bihar go viral like they do. While most police personnel seek to project a no-nonsense, we-mean-business image, Pandey has cultivated a mass following for himself by doing the exact opposite.
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With almost 7 lakh followers on Facebook, Pandey uploads videos of himself on his verified page every second day, spanning a whole range of activities. From singing songs on Holi before an ecstatic live audience, to urging people to follow him on his YouTube channel. From eating dry chapatis with salt and green chillis with villagers at a tribal woman’s house in the midst of flashing cameras, to giving personality management tips to the youth — in the latter video, Pandey could be mistaken for a spiritual speaker as, in Zen fashion, he describes human beings as “keval aatma (only spirit) and nothing more”.
Last month, after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was from Bihar, Pandey posted a picture with his grieving father on Facebook with the caption, “It was a heart-breaking sight. My eyes became teary. A lot of friends from the media wanted to talk to me then, but I was not in the state to talk. Ek sitara, humari aankhon ka taara, bewaqt hi doob gaya (A star, the apple of our eyes, has left us before his time).”
In short, the increasingly popular IPS officer knows exactly how to keep the limelight focused firmly on himself.
The pursuit of ‘community policing’
A source in the Bihar government described Pandey as a “neta… not a police officer”. “Everyone knows that here — he is extremely popular because of his bhashanbaazi (lecturing) and this focus on building a social media profile… It’s not a bad thing — you can be on TV all the time — but it is just something politicians, and not police officers, are known for.”
For Pandey, his social media persona is a means to an end. It is to cultivate a culture of “community policing” — his endeavour to close the “dangerous communication gap” between police and the public — for which he uses social media as “just a tool”.
“The goals of maintaining law and order and crime control cannot be achieved without the cooperation and participation of the public… I have been doing this for the last 34 years,” Pandey told ThePrint. “It is just that through social media, one can reach lakhs of people at one go,” he said.
And while social media remains Pandey’s chosen mode of communicating with the public, according to him, people trust him not because of his bhashanbazi, but his actions.
He is also quick to dismiss his detractors. “Kehne waale toh kuch bhi kahenge… Aaj agar Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagwaan Ram ya Krishan bhi hote, toh log social media par unko bhi gaali dete (Those who want to pass judgement will do it no matter what… If Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Ram or Krishna were alive today, even they would have been subjected to taunts on social media),” he said. “Whenever someone becomes very popular, detractors emerge.”
An eventful career trajectory
Pandey was picked as Bihar DGP in February 2019 out of 12 IPS officers recommended by the state government to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
Five years before, Pandey was examined by the CBI in a high-profile abduction case that remains unsolved — the now Supreme-Court-monitored Navaruna case, which centres on the abduction of a 12-year-old girl, Navaruna Chakravarty, from her Muzaffarpur home in 2012, when Pandey was the inspector general of police for the area.
Her father has alleged that the abduction was part of a land mafia ploy to purchase the plot on which the family of four was living, and named Pandey as one of the accused.
In 2009, Pandey had left the IPS to reportedly join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, after he allegedly failed to get a Lok Sabha ticket from Buxar, his hometown, he was reinstated by the Bihar government in a controversial decision.
“It was a big controversy at the time — how a serving IPS officer quits service, applies for VRS (voluntary retirement scheme) to fight an election on a BJP ticket, and then is quietly reinstated into service,” another government officer from the state said. “It was an open, brazen violation of all service rules.”
It is a claim Pandey categorically denied. “Is there any statement made by me or any neta to suggest I wanted to join the BJP? It is all speculation,” he said. “It is only because I served as OSD to BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain when he was the civil aviation minister for three years (during the Vajpayee era) that people assumed I would join the BJP…“
While he denied any affiliation to the BJP — “I challenge anyone to prove that I have favoured or targeted any political leader in my 34 years of service,” he said — Pandey admitted he left the service in 2009 to join politics.
“At that time, I thought I had spent enough years in service… I was under the impression that I am very popular, when that illusion shattered, I joined the service again — I realised it is not the right time,” he said.
An early interest in politics
Pandey’s interest in politics — what he refers to as the biggest “seva platform” — dates back to his years as a college student, said journalist-author Nalin Verma, a friend, confidant and batchmate of his from Patna University, where he studied Sanskrit (Pandey even took his UPSC exam in Sanskrit, prompting his IAS-IPS colleagues to call him “backdoor entry” to the service in jest).
“To people who do not know him, it was a big deal, but for us, his friends, it was not surprising,” added Verma. “Even in college, he was extremely good at public speaking, and would often tag along with the then Congress MP from Buxar, K.K. Tiwari (who was a professor at Patna University), for his campaigning, rallies — he was never in student politics, but was always deeply interested in political matters,” he added.
“Gaon-dihaat ki politics mein interest tha (He was interested in the politics of the hinterland). He has been the son of the soil in the true sense.”
As someone who observed politics in his young days, maybe he always harboured the jigyasa (desire) to become a politician, and thought he could achieve this dream after he became a senior IPS officer, Verma added.
Pandey, who comes from a family of farmers, was the first person among his immediate relatives to pursue a formal education. “He came from a semi-literate family, and yet went on to do what he did — cleared the UPSC in the first attempt, and became an income tax officer, and became the IPS in his second attempt,” Verma said.
A politician-like persona
In 2009, when Pandey quit the service to flirt with politics, his name was finalised, and even approved by BJP leader L.K. Advani, for a Lok Sabha ticket, a Patna-based editor of a Hindi daily said.
At the last moment, when the list of candidates went to Vajpayee for approval, however, one name was dropped — Pandey’s, the editor added. Vajpayee, instead, picked the late BJP leader Lal Muni Chaubey, a close aide of his, for Buxar.
Dismissive as he is of speculation about his BJP affiliation, Pandey has carefully cultivated a politician-like persona. Often seen sporting a tilak on his forehead, attending religious events and giving speeches in a characteristic Bihari drawl, Pandey is always extremely conscious of his public image.
“Even now, if you see local Bihari media, it is deluged with Pandey’s videos, speeches, social media posts — he is like a Twitter and TV raja,” said one of the two government officers mentioned above.
This penchant for publicity also earned him a rebuke from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Weeks after Pandey became the DGP, Kumar warned him against becoming a “media poster boy” and, instead, “let his work speak”.
“We have provided police all possible help. It is time you deliver. Only clapping will not do, you people have to work,” Kumar said at a function in March 2019, where Pandey was also present. “If media is putting you in the forefront, believe me, you are bound to be pulled up in future if you fail to deliver. This is the reason I also maintain a distance from the media,” he added.
Yet, Pandey calls Kumar his maargdarshak — his guide and guardian.
“Woh toh mere maargdarshak, mere guardian hain… Woh mujhe jo chaahe keh sakte hain (He is my guardian, he can say anything to me),” he said. “He scolded me for the right reason… When I became DGP, for one month, I interacted a lot with the media — I have over 500 friends in the media,” he added. “But then I completely stopped — I have not given one press conference in the last year and a half. As DGP, I only communicate with the public through social media.”
Once a wannabe politician, always a wannabe politician
Pandey’s detractors may dismiss him as a limelight-hungry neta in the garb of police, but, for his followers, Pandey is a rare IPS officer who uses social media to make people active stakeholders in destroying the “apradh ki sanskriti”.
“Just because we are not used to seeing police officers of his seniority talk to people on their own terms, we think he is trying to be a neta,” said an IPS officer from Bihar. “Which police officer talks against casteism and communalism as openly as he does? Is that not a good thing?” the officer asked.
Others, however, say that Pandey’s political ambitions are an “open secret” in Bihar. “Social media and TV have made Gupteshwar Pandey a hero, and he is consciously playing into that image… It is like everything he does is to prepare for a post-retirement life in politics,” said the second government officer mentioned above.
“But that is something only those who have watched him know. For those in Delhi and elsewhere, a real-life Chulbul Pandey from Dabangg has just been discovered because of social media.”
Pandey does not confirm or refute the claims about him eyeing a post-retirement stint in polictics. Once he retires, he said, he would be a “free citizen”. “Main haan ya na nahi keh raha, but kya rajneeti karna koi adharm hai (I am not saying yes or no, but is it a crime to be in politics?” he added.
“But yes, until the time I am DGP, I am only and only the DGP,” said Pandey, who retires in February 2021.
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