“People who have worked with him often say he’s a good man, a thorough gentleman… but is he a good leader? No,” says a senior IPS officer about Delhi Commissioner of Police Amulya Patnaik, the reticent leader of an 89,000-strong force.
Under Patnaik, the force has in recent times come in for scrutiny for its handling of at least two incidents — for allegedly forcing its way into Jamia Millia Islamia on December 15 and its alleged inaction during the violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University on January 5.
On January 31, Patnaik, 60, retires after a three-year tenure which, besides the cloud cast by the recent violence, has been marred by rebellion within the ranks, the most recent being the Tis Hazari clash between lawyers and police early November, which led to a protest by police personnel against the CP.
Patnaik, who did his graduation from Odisha and is an MA in Political Science from Delhi University, is from the 1985 AGMUT cadre of the IPS, and was first posted as Assistant Commissioner of Police (Najafgarh sub-division). For someone who has always shunned the limelight, Patnaik has enjoyed key postings in the Delhi Police — DCP (East), DCP (South), Joint CP (southern range), Joint CP (Crime) and Special CP (Vigilance) — a run his well-wishers attribute to his “integrity and clean image” and his detractors to his “connections”. He was posted as Inspector General of the Special Protection Group and in 2003, managed the security of then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he undertook a train journey that year. Patnaik has also served as SSP, Law & Order, Puducherry, and as DGP of Mizoram.
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Despite several attempts by The Sunday Express, Patnaik did not agree to participate in an interview for this story.
In 2017, Patnaik was made chief of Delhi Police — an announcement that surprised many since he superseded at least two officers.
Talking about how the “dark horse” pipped others to the top job, a senior IPS officer told The Sunday Express, “At that time, Alok Verma, who went on to become CBI Director, was retiring as Delhi CP after a one-year stint. In the running were top officers Dharmendra Kumar and Deepak Mishra, both one batch senior to Patnaik. But Verma lobbied hard for Patnaik, as he didn’t get along with Kumar and Mishra.”
The officer said Patnaik, who “drowned himself in paperwork and avoided social gatherings”, is part of a “strong Odiya circle”, one that “possibly influenced the decision (to appoint him to the top job) too”.
Those close to Patnaik say that since he took over as CP, the soft-spoken officer has become even more reserved. Patnaik has two children, one of whom teaches at a private university.
After Patnaik was named CP, a former Delhi Police chief told The Indian Express, “Patnaik’s real test will be when there is a crisis.” His detractors say that going by some of the biggest “tests” during Patnaik’s tenure, he hasn’t fared too well. Each of these crises over the last three years were followed by calls for his removal and rumours of an imminent transfer, but he proved a doughty survivor, which his supporters attribute to his “distinguished service record”.
DGP (Arunachal Pradesh), R P Upadhyayam, who worked with Patnaik when he was Special CP (Crime), says, “We handled all the crises situations in a tactful manner. Patnaik sir always guided and motivated us.”
He is also credited with launching “Pratidhi”, a counselling programme for victims of traumatic crimes, in 1995.
Retired JCP Alok Kumar, who was his junior in the Vigilance and Crime units, says, “He was a meticulous officer who gave time to officers to discuss important issues, and remained calm in situations of crisis.”
As police chief, however, his unflappability came in for test on several occasions. On November 4, the unthinkable happened — hundreds of police personnel and their families protested against Patnaik outside the Delhi Police’s old headquarters at ITO, some even raising slogans when he addressed them. Their allegation: that the CP had failed to stand by them after lawyers beat up over 20 police personnel and manhandled senior officers at the Tis Hazari Court.
Many senior officers say the outburst was not a one-off incident, that it was the result of pent-up frustration against the chief for allegedly not standing up for his force.
“When the court gave immunity to the lawyers, we expected our leader to fight for us… It would have been okay if he had fought and lost, but at least he would have fought,” says a senior IPS officer.
They also talk about his propensity for “unfair dismissals and hasty transfers” of officials — from the Mukherjee Nagar incident last July, where a clash between a tempo driver and a police team resulted in the dismissal of lower-level staff, to the transfer of a Special CP-rank officer to Delhi Prisons after the incident of vandalisation of a temple in Old Delhi led to a communal flare-up the same month. More recently, after the Tiz Hazari incident, Additional DCP Harendra Singh and Sanjay Singh, Special CP, Law and Order (Northern Zone), were transferred.
A senior IPS officer says, “In many cases, the personnel don’t even get a chance to explain themselves. The image within the force is that dismissals and transfers are done to please the government.”
After taking charge, whenever Patnaik has found himself in a spot, he has turned to some of his “trusted officers”. But as some of them retired or got transferred, he seemed to be losing grip. “After the retirement of a JCP-rank officer from the Crime Branch, he appointed two Additional CPs. But as the recent spate of chain snatchings and muggings in the Capital revealed, the performance of the Crime Branch wasn’t up to mark. That was one instance when Patnaik turned to the Special Cell, a specialised anti-terror wing, to arrest petty thieves and robbers. What does this tell you about the chief of a force?,” asks a senior police officer.
The CP’s insistence that Joint CP- and Special CP-rank officers be present at key crime spots has not gone down too well either. Says a Joint CP, “We have a supervisory role. He wants us to be field officers but that’s the job of DCPs. There is less faith in DCPs… The responsibility has shifted to the seniors and, in fact, we have to ask the headquarters even before holding a press conference. We also have to go through press releases.”
But it’s the JNU incident that has been the most damaging for Patnaik. As his police force came in for severe criticism for not acting while masked goons wreaked havoc inside the campus on January 5, Patnaik was in Odisha, his hometown, on a two-day break.
By the time he returned the next morning, the damage had been done. Disturbing visuals of bloodied faces of students had flooded social media within minutes.
Over 12 days after the incident, no arrests have been made, and a hasty press conference by senior police officers, blaming Left-affiliated students for the violence, raised many questions. A senior IPS officer said, “The Delhi Police is undergoing a media policy paralysis. There was no need for such an under-prepared press conference.”
About zero arrests in the JNU case, the officer says it cemented the impression that the force was being run by the government. “Of course, in the past too, the Home Ministry of different governments would have exerted some unreasonable pressure on the Delhi Police but this time, we have truly ceded. The next CP will have to undo a lot of damage done already. We are leaderless,” he says.
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