- Chief Minister Anandiben Patel not contesting the next election in 2017
- BJP worried over the fallout of the Patidars’ agitation
- Police officers loyal to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah placed in key positions in the state
- New Delhi calls the shots
- Thakur replaced as DGP by P.P. Pandey, who was in jail with Vanzara for the fake encounter of Ishrat Jahan
The transfer of yet another Gujarat officer to New Delhi should hardly have been news. After all, many key positions in the national capital have been held by Gujarat-cadre officers since Narendra Modi became prime minister. But when the transfer is from state DGP to DG (Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards) and decided on without consulting the officer, and if the new DGP is an accused in cases of extra-judicial encounter out on bail, eyebrows are bound to be raised.
It was a holiday in Lutyens’ Delhi—Ramnavami—on April 15, a relaxed Friday for the central bureaucracy, when the orders came from the MHA for the immediate transfer of P.C. Thakur. Such alacrity is normally reserved for ‘top priority’ movement ordered at a very high level.
Gandhingar too was also at ease after the Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations the day before. The chief secretary was at home, unaware of the development until his attention was drawn to order no. 6/6/2016-EO(SM-1) of the secretariat of the appointments committee of the Union cabinet, issued earlier in the day.
Nikhil Bhatt, Gujarat joint secretary (home), was out of town and had to rush back to Gandhinagar and issue the notification (DPT/102016/GOI-74/B) right away, transferring Thakur to New Delhi and relieving him of his Gujarat charge with effect from the ‘forenoon’ of Saturday, April 16. Such was the hurry that the first notification had erroneously mentioned June 16 as the date for P.P. Pandey to take over as DGP, and so another had to be issued two hours later.
Why the hurry? Therein lies a tale of the ongoing churn in the police, administration and politics in Gujarat. Chief minister Anandiben Patel may have insisted on moving out Thakur but the choice of successor was apparently dictated by Delhi. A visibly unhappy Thakur went on sick leave and ruled out moving to Delhi immediately, apparently stating on record that his wife was “critically ill” and “no husband can leave his wife in such a condition, not even to appease some individuals.”
New Delhi, which ordered him out of Gujarat, is far from amused. “He could have joined and then taken leave,” says a top official, hinting at possible punitive action. Rumour has it that the prime minister, BJP national president Amit Shah and Anandiben have all been unhappy with Thakur for some time. The 1979-batch IPS officer seems to have disappointed another big gun—National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval—with his handling of the Patidar agitation.
One spin-off of the agitation was the counter-stir launched by the Other Backward Castes. Alpesh Thakore, who heads the Thakore Sena and the OBC-SC and ST Ekta Manch, gave a call for a statewide ‘Vyasanmukti’ campaign and started raiding illicit liquor dens in the countryside, particularly in the constituencies of various ministers. To pre-empt it, the government wanted a statewide campaign against liquor in the prohibition state. But the effort was hamstrung as the system that would implement it has big stakes in liquor—a gargantuan source of slush funds that oil the police-political machine. And there is the fear that with the Patels moving away from the BJP, a dent in the OBC vote bank would spell doom for the party at the assembly polls next year.
No wonder nothing moved despite the CM’s clear instructions. IGP Hasmukh Patel was given charge but kept short-staffed. And just before he went on leave, Thakur, curiously, disbanded the DGP’s vigilance cell that oversaw the exercise.
Thakur had many run-INS with additional chief secretary (home) P.K. Taneja, who had complained against him. He was not on good terms with the top brass of the police either. He had been rebuffed by some of the police commissioners when he asked for the logbooks to check on their movements at the peak of the Patidar stir.
And then he fell foul of Doval when it was revealed in the media that the NSA’s Pakistani counterpart was the source of intelligence inputs on 10 alleged terrorists entering India, leading to diplomatic embarrassment. Thakur had mentioned this bit of diplomatically sensitive information in his written instructions to the districts and Doval was mightily upset at the faux pas. And he was infuriated when Thakur said in Gandhinagar that no encounter had taken place in Gujarat after New Delhi announced that three of the “terrorists” were killed in a “western India state”.
Pandey, the officiating DGP who took over from Thakur and is a year junior to him in the IPS, has been charge-sheeted in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case of 2004. At the time of the alleged crime, he was the additional commissioner in-charge of the Ahmedabad crime branch and DIG D.G. Vanzara was his deputy. Soon after Pandey was bailed out, he was re-instated and later elevated as DGP heading the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
There have been officiating DGPs before Pandey too. In fact, in December 2013, Thakur had taken charge from an officiating DGP, Pramod Kumar, who held the post for over five months. Interestingly, key police postings are handled by K.K. Kailasnathan, a confidante of the PM who was earlier in charge of the Gujarat CMO during Modi’s chief minister years. He continued in his CMO after retiring from the IAS and even after Modi left for Delhi. For all practical purposes, he remains the PM’s eyes and ears in the Gujarat administration. No prizes for guessing where the orders come from, Pandey’s included.
If Anandiben had her way, going by the grapevine, she would have opted for Geetha Johri. In fact, she was keen to appoint her as the first woman DGP of the state, but that was not to be because Shah favours Pandey. Now Johri will have to wait until Pandey retires in February 2017. Shah was not very happy with Johri, who had conducted the inquiry into the Tulsi Prajapati fake encounter case. It is learnt, though, that he relented enough to allow her to become the Rajkot police commissioner after she acquiesced on one major name. Shah was then the minister of state for home and quit only after his name figured in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.
Come 2017 and the stakes for the BJP and the PM in poll-bound Gujarat would be quite high. The polls will follow those in Uttar Pradesh, a key state that goes to the polls in the first quarter of next year.
Meanwhile, the slackening of the fear factor in Gujarat since Modi’s move to Delhi has allowed both corruption and dissidence to rear their head within the BJP. Modi used to be both the party and the government in Gujarat. Now the state party is headed by Vijay Rupani, a camp follower of Amit Shah.
The Patidar agitation has got important party leaders worried about electoral losses, the evidence being their letter to Anandiben asking her to resolve the longstanding issue. On her part, the CM has made it known that she does not intend to contest next year. There is already consternation over whether she should then be leading the party into the 2017 polls. This is the issue that vexes both Delhi and Gandhinagar at the moment and the sudden order for Thakur’s transfer could well be linked to it.
By R.K. MISRA in Gandhinagar