New Delhi/Patna: As the Supreme Court Wednesday upheld the move to hand over the Sushant Singh Rajput case over to the CBI, it was Bihar Director General of Police (DGP) Gupteshwar Pandey, an IPS officer who is known for politician’s demeanour, who claimed vindication.
“Rhea Chakraborty does not have the aukat (Hindi word for stature) to comment on the Bihar Chief Minister,” Pandey told reporters, apparently referring to Chakraborty’s claim that the Bihar Police FIR in the case is driven by political motivations in light of the state’s upcoming assembly elections.
“What police did was correct, and, according to legal and constitutional provisions,” Pandey added. “Because of the support that the Bihar Chief Minister gave us, there is hope today for justice for Sushant Singh Rajput. The fight has come to this point because of the chief minister’s support.”
Even as politicians battled it out to take credit for the apex court’s decision in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, all eyes were set on Pandey, a 1987-batch IPS officer from Bihar’s Buxar district. While it may be rare for a police officer to have the ability to hog the limelight in the midst of a political-cum-Bollywood spectacle, Pandey is a police officer like no other.
In June, soon after Bihar native Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, Pandey posted a picture of himself with his grieving father on Facebook. The caption read, “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).”
Through the tussle between Bihar and Mumbai Police over jurisdiction, he has made repeated TV appearances on high-pitched news debates about the case, which has captured the national imagination like few others in recent times.
Rumour mills in Bihar have been in an overdrive suggesting that Pandey, whose retirement is due in February next year, could quit the service any time to take a political plunge, maybe even contest this year’s Bihar polls.
“I have a meeting to attend,” he told ThePrint Wednesday when asked about the rumours. Earlier, he had thrown the mike and stormed off a TV interview when asked the question in the context of the Rajput case.
However, just weeks earlier, when asked the same question, he had told ThePrint, “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?)”
In another interview Wednesday evening, he told a TV channel that he will enter politics if the public desires.
His interest in politics is not new. 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, he was reinstated by the Bihar government in a controversial decision – a decision in which CM Nitish Kumar played a crucial role.
Social media profile
In a video clip that went viral on Twitter last month, in the days before history-sheeter Vikas Dubey was killed in an encounter, Pandey was 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 went 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 said.
It wasn’t the first video featuring Pandey that went viral and it is no coincidence that it gained traction like it did. 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.
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”.
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
As an IPS officer, Pandey is known to have cultivated a “people-friendly” image. While he was posted as superintendent of police in Jehanabad in the late 1990s, when the area was rife with violence, he initiated a move to enrol Naxalites’ children in schools. In Muzaffarpur, he took steps for the safety and welfare of people living in a red-light area. As DGP, he is known to arrive unannounced at various police stations at night for inspections.
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.
Three years before that, he had courted controversy for quitting the service to join politics, and then rejoin.
“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 denies. “Is there any statement made by me or any neta to suggest I wanted to join the BJP? It is all speculation,” he told ThePrint in last month’s interview.
“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.
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.”
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 11 July
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