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Monday, May 17, 2021

As a responsible political figure, Devendra Fadnavis ought to moderate his impulses

Devendra Fadnavis, a former CM, now leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, should not have breached a law that he himself as home minister enforced during his term in office.

Written by Julio Ribeiro |
Updated: April 24, 2021 8:47:00 am
Senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis (File Photo)

The one-upmanship between the BJP and the Shiv-Sena led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government has paid scant attention to the sanctity of people’s lives.

I had always harboured a healthy respect for Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP’s chief ministerial face in Maharashtra. His choice of police commissioners in my city and his “hands-off approach” to routine police functioning during his tenure as chief minister had impressed me. But I can discern an impatience in his actions when out of power, that are disconcerting.

His latest “faux pas” was to barge into the BKC police station in the late hours of the evening to rescue a director of a pharmaceutical company manufacturing Remdesivir. The director had been brought in by the police for questioning. The police had received information that the pharmaceutical company manufacturing the drug at Daman, formerly a Portuguese colony situated in Gujarat but just outside the limits of Maharashtra, had stored 60,000 vials of Remdesivir in five different locations of the city prior to allegedly illegally exporting the drug abroad.

Personally, I doubt if that was the intention of the manufacturer. It certainly could not have been the intention of Fadnavis or his party! It is obvious to me that the BJP wanted to show the citizens that it could manage to obtain the scarce drug for distribution to those in need whereas the Shiv-Sena and its allies were tardy in their responses. It was as simple as that, but the police’s informers spoilt the party and showed up poor Fadnavis in a very poor light.

According to COVID rules, however, private individuals cannot access Remdesivir, the most sought-after injection for more than moderate to severe COVID-19 infections, from manufacturers. It would be a scoop if the BJP as an organisation could be the vehicle to get hold of supplies before the government could lay its hands on it. But would that be kosher? I do not think so.

As I mentioned earlier, only the state government has powers under COVID rules to deflect supplies from factory to distributors (there are only seven licensed distributors in the city). How exactly the drugs came to be stored at the manufacturer’s five different export reservoirs merit a separate excise department inquiry. Daman is now an integral part of the state of Gujarat which is ruled by the BJP. Its excise department must answer that question.

More importantly, a former CM, now leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, should not have breached a law that he himself as home minister enforced during his term in office. Entering a police station, the symbol of a state’s authority and legal power, arguing with the officer in charge who is the state’s representative, raising his voice, is unworthy of a man of his stature. Fadnavis had lost his cool!

During my tenure as police commissioner of the city, in the early 1980s, Bhaurao Patil, a ruling Congress party MLA, closely allied to a former Congress chief minister, Abdul Rehman Antulay, entered the Worli police station and abused the inspector in charge. When I was informed of the incident, I ordered an offence to be registered and referred to the judicial magistrate for issue of a summons to the offender.

The summons was duly issued. Patil ignored it. A reminder was also ignored. When a bailable warrant was issued, he approached the then chief minister, Vasantdada Patil, who wanted me to close the case. I said I would if the MLA apologised to the inspector, but the MLA was willing to apologise only to me, the commissioner, and not the officer who had been wronged. That I was not willing to accept. The matter rested there till I relinquished charge of my office nearly a year later. Fadnavis too should be asked to apologise.

But the MVA government looks to be in no mood to compromise. The new home minister, Dilip Valse Patil, has ordered an inquiry into the episode. Who has been asked to inquire he did not say. The police deputy commissioner perhaps, or an officer a notch senior? But that will only prolong a political game that is not required to be played at such a critical time when people’s lives are at the mercy of the coronavirus.

Fadnavis must have felt morally obliged to plead for the pharmaceutical company’s director who was being questioned. The obligation could have arisen if he or his party had made an approach to the manufacturing company that was operating in BJP-ruled Gujarat. The company may have wanted to please a party that is the flavour of the times and striving to become the sole political party in the country. But if in its hurry and anxiety to ingratiate itself with the public, it cut procedural or, worse, legally mandated corners then it has landed in a soup.

The BJP is hell bent on embarrassing the MVA government in Maharashtra. It failed in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. It has partially succeeded in the Sachin Waze matter and it may have been able to apply the screws there but for the resurgence of COVID-19 that is presently occupying the public mind. The Remdesivir initiative could at best have had limited effect but may now prove foolhardy.

Fadnavis was a good chief minister. But in the role of a CM-in-waiting, he is taking unnecessary risks due to impatience. Personally, I would have been happy if he had exploited the Sachin Waze episode because there was a chance of exposing the unholy nexus between politicians and the police. But attempting to use COVID’s ravages and the shortage of life-saving medicines for political mileage will not go down well with the people.

This article first appeared in the print edition on April 24, 2021 under the title ‘Slipping on fast track’. The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab.

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