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Row over Mumbai Police’s 1st special commissioner — ‘Fadnavis’s blue-eyed boy’

Opposition says by creating new post & appointing Deven Bharti, BJP wants to create 'dual power structure' within police force. Deputy CM, however, says it's like 'adding missing link'.

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Mumbai: Hours after taking charge as Mumbai’s first special commissioner of police Thursday, IPS officer Deven Bharti tweeted, “Mumbai Police is a team. Singhams don’t exist”.

Bharti’s tweet, though seemingly without context, was a loaded one given the political criticism surrounding his appointment.

Leaders from the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) — comprising the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — have been slamming the Maharashtra government’s decision to create a special CP post as one that will build an alternate power centre within the Mumbai Police.

They allege that it will allow the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to wield influence over the Mumbai Police considering Bharti is seen as a “loyalist” of Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

“The appointment is simply for the BJP to have a trustworthy senior hand in the Mumbai Police,” a senior NCP leader, who wished to not be named, told ThePrint Thursday. “In the corridors of power, it is an open secret that Deven Bharti is close to Devendra Fadnavis. Bharti did not even once meet the state home minister during our regime,” he added.

Deputy CM Fadnavis, who also holds the home portfolio, has defended his decision saying the special CP post is like “adding a missing link”.

Meanwhile, some retired Mumbai Police chiefs also see merit in the creation of the new post saying Mumbai is an expansive city where the duties of the police often go beyond basic crime control and maintenance of law and order.

The row over Bharti’s appointment as special commissioner of police is, perhaps, just another in a string of controversies that the 1994-batch IPS officer has weathered in his 28-year-long policing career.

ThePrint reached Bharti via calls and text messages, but did not receive a response till the time of publication. The story will be updated once a response is received.

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Plum postings under Fadnavis, ‘punishment’ under MVA

Having held important positions — such as joint commissioner of police (law and order), additional commissioner of police (crime branch) and chief of the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad — Bharti’s experience of serving in Mumbai is vast.

He was involved in the investigation into the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, but also courted controversy for the same. Hasan Gafoor, the Mumbai Police chief at the time of the attack, during an interview to The Week magazine had named four officers, including Bharti, for dithering to respond to the situation despite being on-ground during the attack.

Many of Bharti’s plum Mumbai postings were during the time Fadnavis was CM and held the home portfolio between 2014 and 2019.

“In the Mumbai Police, there have been two clear lobbies among senior IPS officers — one of native Maharashtrian officers and the other of non-Maharashtrians, or specifically north Indian officers. The NCP, which has held the home portfolio for most of the past two decades, and specifically its chief Sharad Pawar, was close to the Maharashtrian lobby,” political commentator Hemant Desai told ThePrint.

“As the BJP grew in prominence in Maharashtra and came to power, the influence of its central leadership in Maharashtra also grew and the party came to be closer to the north Indian lobby and officers like Deven Bharti,” he added.

Bharti was appointed Joint CP (law and order) in April 2015 and eventually made a record as the longest-serving officer in the post. He was finally transferred in 2019 after the Election Commission (EC) directed the Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government to do so.

The EC had asked the Maharashtra government to transfer all officers who have completed three years in their post after which the state requested the commission to allow Bharti to continue till the conclusion of the Lok Sabha election that year citing his “experience and track record”. The EC, however, rejected the request. Bharti was then appointed the joint CP in charge of the economic offences wing.

The same year, the Fadnavis-led government appointed Bharti as the Maharashtra ATS chief. The IPS officer, however, ran out of favour after a change in regime post November 2019.

In 2020, the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government transferred Bharti to the Maharashtra State Security Corporation — seen in administrative circles as a “punishment” posting. This was also the time when Bharti’s name came up in multiple controversies.

Also Read: MVA grills Eknath Shinde & BJP over border row with Karnataka, CM invokes ‘Maharashtra’s pride’

‘Typical divide and rule idea of BJP’

In 2020, retired former Mumbai top cop Rakesh Maria in his autobiography alleged that Bharti was on a “first-name basis” with television executives Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, alleged to have killed Indrani’s daughter Sheena Bora. The case came to light in 2015. Maria claimed Bharti had been aware of Bora’s disappearance, but did not inform Maria about it. Bharti rejected the allegation.

Then in 2021, the Mumbai Police filed an FIR against Bharti, who was then additional director general of police, for cheating, forgery and under penal provisions of the Indian Passport Act. Bharti was said to have allegedly pressurised a police officer to not follow up on a case of passport fraud against a BJP leader’s wife.

Bharti got a clean chit in the case in October last year. Notably, the Maharashtra government had changed in June with the BJP coming to power along with CM Eknath Shinde-led Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena.

“Deven Bharti has very clearly been Fadnavis’ blue-eyed boy,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named. “Mumbai commissioner of police Vivek Phansalkar is a straightforward officer with good relations with everyone. But, having Deven Bharti as special CP will help Fadnavis drive his agenda and help the deputy CM in any balance of power with the CM.”

Priyanka Chaturvedi, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader and Rajya Sabha MP, tweeted saying dual power structures within the Mumbai Police is the “typical divide and rule idea of BJP”.

“It’s a shame they are playing out these dangerous games of favouritism with Mumbai’s law and order,” she wrote.

Speaking to reporters in Pune Thursday, Fadnavis dismissed criticism against the special CP post saying that it is an additional director general (ADG) level post, while the Mumbai commissioner of police is a director general (DG) level post. Upgrading the Mumbai police commissioner’s post to a DG level was another major change that Fadnavis had orchestrated when he was CM and home minister in 2015.

He said, “In the hierarchy, an ADG post in the Mumbai Police was missing. When we upgraded the Mumbai CP’s post to DG level looking at Mumbai’s expanse, for some reason we couldn’t create an ADG level post. So we have created it now. Though the post is called special CP, it is under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai CP.”

‘Chain of command not broken’

Retired senior IPS officers and former Mumbai Police chiefs say the special CP’s post, reporting to the Mumbai CP, works in theory, as it has in Delhi for about a decade. But clashes between personalities could make it tricky.

“The chain of command is not broken. The ultimate boss is the CP,” M.N. Singh, retired Maharashtra DGP, told ThePrint.

“People are suspicious of this move because they think that Deven Bharti is very close to Fadnavis so he has been brought to cut CP to size. I think that is a very far-fetched conclusion. He may be close to Devendra Fadnavis, I don’t know, but even if it is so, I don’t think there will be any problem in the CP controlling the force,” he said.

Speaking to ThePrint, retired officer D. Sivanandan, also a former Maharashtra DGP, said Mumbai’s police force is one of 50,000 to 60,000 personnel for about 20 million people and its duties are vast — maintaining law and order, prevention and detection of crime, managing VIP movement, traffic and so on.

“The special CP can be given separate clear cut functions where he can take charge and report to the CP. This will help reduce the CP’s onerous responsibility,” Sivanandan said.

“The negatives, though, are that there are two swords in one scabbard. Whoever is more assertive and closer to the administration will be in a position to usurp power. It can either be one cohesive family, or total chaos,” he added.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

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