New Delhi: An unprecedented fallout between the top officers of the CBI. A very public face-off between the CBI and Kolkata Police brass. The suicide of a retired West Bengal-cadre officer, and his accusations against the chief minister.
The appointment as Bihar police chief of an officer who once quit the service to join a political party. And an IPS officer’s accusation that a Punjab director general of police (DGP) is involved in a high-profile drug racket.
Over the last few months, several cases have betrayed deep cracks in the Indian Police Service (IPS), giving rise to a worrying question: Has the Indian Police Service become the Indian Political Service?
Members of one of the two most elite services in the country (the other being the Indian Administrative Service), IPS officers are arguably the most visible face of the government, overseeing law and order, investigation, internal and border security, and intelligence, among other functions.
However, while they have always faced allegations of being used by politicians to persecute opponents, IPS officers — retired and serving — worry that the state of affairs is rapidly deteriorating, with most attributing the increasing politicisation of police to the “murky” politics of our times.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s premier investigative agency, is manned by IPS officers from across the country serving on central deputation.
Even though the CBI is often accused of being putty in the hands of its political masters, there was no precedent in its 56-year history to the showdown last year that saw the agency’s top two officers — director Alok Verma and additional director Rakesh Asthana — trade allegations of bribery and corruption.
At the peak of the unsavoury saga, which culminated in the duo’s exit from the CBI, the conflict between Asthana and Verma was attributed to a turf war in the PMO, as reported by ThePrint in October last year.
Then, last month, Kolkata Police detained a CBI team while it was at police commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s residence to question him about “missing documents” in the Saradha Ponzi scam, whose investigation he had overseen before the case was handed over to the agency.
The detention flowed from the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government’s allegations that the CBI was being misused by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre — a charge that had led her, in 2018, to withdraw the state’s general consent for the CBI to pursue investigations in West Bengal.
A few members of Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress are being investigated in the Saradha scam, and political leaders were quick to flag how questioning in a four-year-old case was being conducted months before the Lok Sabha elections and days after a grand opposition rally facilitated by Banerjee.
“These two incidents,” said former Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar, “have earned the IPS an ignominy that it will not be able to shed for a long time.
“These are blemishes on the entire service…People like me thank God that we retired at the right time with our integrity intact,” he added.
A senior officer serving in the central government on deputation agreed.
“Within the service, nobody wants to come to the CBI after what has happened,” the officer said. “With such obvious cases of corruption, politicisation, why would any honest, right-thinking officer want to?”
Not just the CBI
The fracas in the CBI aside, several eyebrows were also raised when the Bihar government finalised IPS officer Gupteshwar Pandey as DGP earlier this year.
As reported by ThePrint last month, the 1987-batch officer had once left the service to join the BJP and, in 2012, was examined by the CBI in a high-profile case involving the abduction of a minor from her Bihar home.
“What does this appointment tell you about the state of police in the country?” said a Bihar-cadre IPS officer who did not want to be named. “The politicisation of police cannot be more obvious than this,” he added.
“There is unprecedented politicisation of the service these days,” said Kumar. “It is impossible for officers to remain apolitical because, nowadays, their growth depends on how much they are willing to bend.”
Former Uttar Pradesh DGP Prakash Singh agreed. “These days, extraneous considerations — largely political ones — have entered decision-making to the extent that objectivity is next to impossible,” he said.
Singh added that while there had always been some amount of political influence on police officers, the politics now is “dirtier, murkier and more unprincipled than ever before”.
“What you see in the CBI-versus-CBI case or the CBI-versus-Kolkata Police case is ultimately political shadow-boxing,” he said.
Talking to ThePrint, former Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar, an ex-IPS officer who later joined the Congress, described the phenomenon as the “Gujarat effect”.
“This is what has always happened in Gujarat, and now the same level of politicisation has entered the Centre as well,” he added, a clear attack on the Congress’ primary rival, the BJP.
Rakesh Sinha, a Rajya Sabha member and RSS functionary, disagreed and offered a strong counter argument. He traced the politicisation of the IPS to as far back as the 1970s, when the Congress was in power.
Sinha, a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs, told ThePrint that the concept of “committed bureaucracy” was introduced in the country by former prime minister Indira Gandhi of the Congress.
“The objectivity of police is the foundational stone of democracy, and the only time this objectivity was tampered with was during the Emergency,” added Sinha.
“In the present regime, the administration and police have been elevated to their lost glory and standing… Allegations of politicisation don’t reflect the reality,” he said.
‘Needed by politicians’
However, last month, a retired IPS officer from West Bengal committed suicide after penning a scathing letter in which he accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of being “vindictive and revengeful”.
He also alleged that nobody spoke up in the state fearing “instant revenge from ruling party”, a reference to the Trinamool Congress. “All are prisoners here as no one is allowed to go on deputation also,” he added.
All aspects of governance are admittedly politicised, but the influence seems starker in the police force, given the sheer dependence of politicians on police, say members of the force.
“As police officers, our actions are mostly in black and white with little scope of ambiguity,” the IPS officer on central deputation said. “For example, if there are instructions to arrest someone or file a case against someone, there can be no ambiguity about it.
“Be it for elections, arresting opponents, implicating adversaries in cases, the dependence of politicians is far greater on police as opposed to IAS officers,” the officer said. “Therefore the politicisation of our service is also greater.”
Abhishek Chandra, the secretary of the IAS Association, concurred with the argument, saying IPS officers were hands down a more-needed resource for the government.
“Politicians need cops more than anyone else…If they want to create a riot-like situation, they need cops, if they want to round up some people, they need cops,” he said.
The politicisation is believed to have taken a toll on the unity of the force.
“IPS officers have ended up shooting themselves in the political crossfire,” said Chandra of the IAS Association. “So, of course, their camaraderie is degrading and that is unfortunate.”
The public spectacle of senior officers filing cases against one another does not help their cause either.
Last year, a senior IPS officer in Punjab accused fellow cop Dinakar Gupta, now one of the state’s 12 DGPs, of shielding drug lords and making money in the process.
Curtailing political influence in the appointment of DGPs, the state police chiefs, was among the primary objectives when the Supreme Court, in 2006, lay down a slew of reforms, including the selection of candidates through a ‘national security commission’ and a fixed two-year term for incumbents.
However, more than a decade later, their implementation remains sketchy at best, despite the Supreme Court reiterating the need for the reforms last July.
Most officers believe that the current state of politicisation is unlikely to change without the Supreme Court’s police reforms being implemented throughout the country.
“Everyone knows the remedy — police reforms — but there is no political will,” said Singh, the brain behind the petition that led to the Supreme Court order on police reforms. “Without that, the future looks bleak.”
An IPS officer said their implementation was an inconvenient prospect for many.
“The truth is that it is only police officers who want police reforms in this country,” said the IPS officer. “For everyone else, the politicisation is useful.”