I expected much from Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He is a young man of 45 years, which may be young for a politician in our land but old enough to take wise and calculated decisions. He started off well, choosing good people for top jobs and retaining the good ones appointed by the previous government. For instance, the appointment of Swadheen Kshatriya as chief secretary, Sanjeev Dayal as the director general of police of the state and Ajoy Mehta as the city’s municipal head.
Hence, I find it difficult to decipher why Fadnavis shifted the city’s popular and effective police commissioner, Rakesh Maria, in such a dramatic manner. The decision was neither wise nor calculating. The only conclusion is that Fadnavis did not like Maria’s face. All other explanations advanced fall apart on scrutiny.
Maria had endeared himself to the people of the city because of his willingness to serve them. Anyone who approached him with a genuine grievance got a patient hearing and almost immediate relief. He was proactive in law and order matters too. Because of his personal intervention, the funeral of Yakub Memon was completed without trouble.
Maria is very fond of crime investigation. It is almost a weakness. It is also his strength. I have known only one other officer who could immerse himself in the investigation of a crime in the manner that Maria is wont to do. This penchant for crime investigation appears to have drawn Maria to the Khar police station to personally supervise a very high profile, and complicated, murder of a young girl, allegedly by her socialite mother. The press gave the case its undivided attention for numerous days and made out that Maria was doing no other work except questioning the accused and witnesses. Actually, that was not so.
When I pointed out to Maria that he had the Ganesh festival and Bakri Eid to manage at the same time, he told me that he had visited Khar police station on only four occasions in the fortnight preceding his removal from office. He had called a meeting of all city officers to flesh out the bandobast details for the Ganesh and Eid festivals and personally nominated key personnel.
The suspicion that he had neglected his responsibility to maintain peace and quiet during the festival was incorrect. Why then was he transferred, I asked? He felt that his predecessor, Satyapal Singh, who had joined the BJP and was elected as MP from Meerut, had poisoned the ears of Fadnavis against him. He was not sure if some juniors, who were aspiring to replace him, were also involved or not.
The commissioner of police of Mumbai is a very high-profile job. During the British Raj, the second seniormost officer in the cadre would be appointed to lead the city’s police force. A police officer of integrity and competence should always be selected and he should then be left with operational freedom, which is essentially required to enable him to do his job well. His men should know that he is respected not only by them and the public but also by the politicians in power. This was the position right up to the 1980s and even, possibly, during the 1990s. But, steadily, over the past two decades, the political class and the bureaucracy have diminished the authority of the commissioner and attempted to run the force from the Mantralaya, with disastrous consequences.
I thought that the young chief minister would correct that position and restore the dignity and elan of the commissioner of police. Alas, it was not to be. In one witless and whimsical move, Fadnavis has destroyed the morale of the Mumbai Police by disrespecting the position of the head of the force.
The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab, and is a former Indian ambassador to Romania.