Felled by the very toughness that made him a supercop

One of Karnataka’s most decorated police officers,he has two President’s medals for gallantry

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore | Published: April 4, 2012 3:38 am

“There will be high-handedness but there will also be respect and fear of the police as long as Bidari is the chief,” a Karnataka police officer said in a casual discussion last November as a battle picked up between Abdul Rehman Infant and Shankar Mahadev Bidari,the two most senior officers in the force,for the post of the state police chief.

Born on June 1,1952,and appointed to the IPS in 1978,Bidari upstaged the more senior Infant — born on May 23,1952,and a 1977 IPS appointee,to become the director general of police last year — only to be displaced last week by the Karnataka High Court,which also bracketed him with dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.

Over the years that Bidari has been in the Karnataka police,the odds had so far seemed in his favour at almost anything,whether it concerned awards and recognition,political backing,crime management,encounter deaths,terrorism operations or even corruption and violation of human rights.

One of Karnataka’s most decorated police officers,he has two President’s medals for gallantry — one for the killing of a Naxalite in the late 1980s and the second for the 1993 killing of a member of forest brigand Veerappan’s gang.

Between April 1993 and June 1996,he was the commander of the special task force that was involved in the 19-year hunt for Veerappan. Following Veerappan’s killing in 2004,Bidari received a Rs 8 crore reward from the Karnataka government. The Veerappan operations,however,mark not only the pinnacle of his career but also his recent downfall; not only the success of his policing methods but also a failure to respect the essential spirit of the law.

According to records compiled for his tenure as STF chief,56 members of the gang were killed in encounters,120 were captured and five committed suicide as the gang was reduced from nearly 180 to less than a dozen leading to its elimination in 2004.

On the flip side,forensic and ballistic accounts compiled for a National Human Rights Commission inquiry for that period reveals that many of the “encounter deaths” involved shootings at point-blank range. NHRC inquiries have also found that the police brutalised people living in the forests — through rape and violence — to get to Veerappan. It is the NHRC findings that have resulted in the High Court declaring Bidari ineligible for the post.

Bidari’s argument was that he cannot be held responsible for the atrocities during the operations since these also involved senior officers like Walter Dawaram on the Tamil Nadu side,other seniors on the Karnataka side,and the state government.

Till six months before becoming the Karnataka police chief,Bidari had been the Bangalore police commissioner. In a tenure lasting over two years,he supervised the return of police encounters in the city and the killing of half a dozen people linked to various mafia groups.

The talk in police circles during that period was that the commissioner was in favour of “encounters” to eliminate “dangerous criminals” and that he would back his officers to the hilt. City police officers were vying with each other to notch up encounters during that period.

Despite a largely successful public record as the Bangalore police chief and despite having the backing of the leaders of his Lingayat caste,who dominated the BJP government as well,Bidari was suddenly shunted out of office in May 2011.

The unofficial story at the time was that the sons of top ministers and their aides were upset that Bidari was rarely giving them a hearing. According to sources,one of these sons wanted tickets to a cricket match and got his personal assistant to call Bidari,who allegedly did not mince words in telling the secretary to buzz off. “Though he held the minister himself in high regard,he had little respect for his sons and their hangers-on and this led to a lot of friction since the sons were always making demands,” a source said.

In another incident that is believed to have led to Bidari’s exit,he allegedly put the teenage son of another top minister in his place for slapping a traffic policeman who hauled had him up for a traffic violation.

Shortly after Bidari was moved out of Bangalore,the police carried out a series of raids on high-end prostitution rackets thriving in the city.

Though vilified by many for his human rights record and self-aggrandisement,Bidari has over the years enjoyed the support of a large section of the men he commanded on account of his readiness to back them to the hilt. A recent series of violence between lawyers and policemen in Bangalore,which led to an 18-day strike by lawyers,is seen as being linked to the tough,no-nonsense image that the state police police chief sent down the line.

Critics of Bidari within the police force point out that his efficiency in crime control is very selective. “He controls what he feels like controlling. I don’t know if you can call that efficient,” says an officer in the state police. “He is a go-getter and a fighter. One thing you can be sure of is that he is not going to let the High Court judgment be the last word in his case,” says a senior officer.

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