Throughout his career, Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik kept a low profile, rarely ever made it to the news for wrong reasons, and was always considered an “upright officer” with a “clean image”.
But Patnaik’s term, which ends today, has been tarnished in the last week of his office — part of an extended tenure — as the national capital burnt in one of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots since the 1947 Partition. This is why the outgoing Delhi Police chief is ThePrint’s newsmaker of the week.
While mobs armed with lathis, axes, petrol bombs ran amok, vandalising property, desecrating mosques and Muslim cemeteries, setting vehicles, schools and shops on fire, Amulya Patnaik’s men watched on, waiting for “directions from top”. When those came, it was too late. The damage had been done. Dozens of lives had been lost.
Amulya Patnaik, a 1985-AGMUT cadre IPS officer, had retired after serving as Commissioner of Delhi Police for three years, on 31 January. But his tenure was extended by a month for the Delhi assembly election.
It was during the last few months of his tenure that he received flak for being “incompetent”. From mishandling the JNU violence on 5 January — when a masked mob attacked the students and faculty, but police failed to make a single arrest in two months — to Delhi Police’s brazen use of force inside Jamia Milia Islamia, when officers beat up students, damaged university property, and broke CCTV cameras, Patnaik’s reputation received an instant jolt.
‘Lacks leadership skills’
Although he is respected for his “honesty” and “sense of judgement”, Patnaik is now being largely seen as having failed his force. Many wonder what made him so complicit, so infirm as a leader.
“He has always encouraged great policing and has always held important positions. He always remained calm and dealt with the worst of situations very effectively. What happened now, why and how things went out of hand, is something we all are wondering,” a senior officer told ThePrint, on the condition of anonymity.
Another officer said that Patnaik may be a good police officer but “lacked leadership skills”. The force appreciates a leader who stands with them, backs them. Not someone who puts the blame on them at the first instance to save his own skin,” he said.
A graduate from Odisha, Amulya Patnaik holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from Delhi University. His first posting was as Assistant Commissioner of Police in Najafgarh sub-division. After that he held several important positions in Delhi Police – DCP (east), DCP (south), Joint CP (southern range), Joint CP (crime) and Special CP (vigilance).
Patnaik had also handled the security of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Facing police protest
Last November, Patnaik became the first Commissioner of Police against whom his own police force took to the streets. Several Delhi Police personnel held a vociferous protest outside the headquarters against the apathy of senior officials, demanding “justice and the respect they deserve”. This was something unheard of, considering the “discipline and decorum” that the force swears by.
Although the immediate catalyst for the protest was the assault on officers by lawyers at Tis Hazari, Karkardooma and Saket courts, the discontentment among the personnel had been simmering for long.
Despite widely available videos and clips of police officers being assaulted, no lawyer was arrested. Instead, two senior officials – additional DCP Harendra Singh and Special CP (law and order, northern zone) Sanjay Singh – were transferred. Similarly, in the July 2019 incident where a Sikh man had tried to attack officers with a sword in Mukherjee Nagar, six police personnel were suspended for alleged manhandling.
What was evident was that the lower-level personnel were upset with Patnaik for not standing with them in times of trouble.
“If we do not act, we are blamed. If we act, we are either shunted or punished. Even when we are assaulted, it’s we who suffer. Don’t we deserve a dignified life? They treat us like dirt,” a head constable had told ThePrint at the protest in November.
A senior officer said that when there is no leadership, the force’s morale deteriorates and that is what happened in Patnaik’s case.
“This easy picking of personnel may save you for the moment, but it leads to a bigger damage, which is not visible initially,” he said.
Hard to believe
Amulya Patnaik was made the chief of Delhi Police in 2017. Surprisingly, he superseded two top officers — Dharmendra Kumar and Deepak Mishra, both one batch senior to Patnaik.
While many in the top circles said his appointment was because of his strong “Odia connect” (a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office is an Odia), others said Patnaik deserved the post and that the Modi government wanted a CP with age on his side.
Being a sharp and experienced police officer, it is difficult to believe that Patnaik made an incorrect assessment of the communal riots in Northeast Delhi, where mobs went on a rampage for three days while his officers sat and watched.
Unless there may have been political pressure to not take coercive action.
For cases of communal clashes, there is a clear standard operating procedure – send force on the ground, put DCPs and joint commissioners in charge of the situation, make preventive arrests to disperse the gatherings. Clearly, none of this was done in the three days when Northeast Delhi burnt.
It is also hard to believe that Delhi Police is so incompetent it could not make a single arrest in the JNU violence case despite clear evidence of masked men running riot inside the university campus.
Complacent or a scapegoat?
So, was it the case of Patnaik succumbing to political pressure?
A few senior officers in the force believe so. Does it mean that an officer holding such an important position should be so vulnerable, irresolute? Definitely not.
“There are pressures from the government but it depends on the officer (to decide) how much is justified. It is hard to dodge, but in that chair, that position, one needs to take tough calls,” a senior police officer said.
“If you succumb to that pressure, then you have failed as a leader. You have to have a mind of your own and think for the force, for the people, whether it is morally correct or not,” he said.
Another police officer said that Patnaik has been made a “scapegoat”.
“It is sad that such a respected officer who had a great career will leave like this. He has just been made a scapegoat by the government. But it cannot be discounted that he as the CP should have been more firm.”
Whatever be the case, one thing is certain: as he bids goodbye to the police force today, his image tarnished, Amulya Patnaik must be secretly wishing he had never received that one-month extension.