The title of Anupam Kher’s celebrated autobiographical play, ‘Kuchch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’ (Anything Can Happen), would also be a perfect fit for how the police commissioner of Mumbai is decided if events of the past week are anything to go by.
Both Rakesh Maria, who lost his job overnight, and his successor Ahmad Javed, who could never have expected he would ever get this assignment after being cruelly overlooked in 2014, would agree readily.
To recap, Maria, who claimed he was on the cusp of solving the sensational Sheena Bora murder case before his tenure expired on September 30, was ‘promoted’ three weeks prematurely as Director General, Home Guards.
Meanwhile, Javed, who would have been readying to pack his books and other paraphernalia as DG in the Home Guards office in the by-lane adjoining Elphinstone College, preparing for retirement in less than five months, was suddenly redirected to the hot seat at Palton Road.
That was not the end of the rigmarole though. Maria, who was expressly stripped off the murder case, was reinstated to ‘supervise’ it hours later. This could only have left Javed flummoxed: ss commissioner, surely ALL cases fall under his purview.
But this is no two-actor drama, rather a multi-starrer if recent history is anything to go by. Maria is not the first commissioner to be shunted out of office prematurely: Hasan Gafoor, PS Pasricha, RS Sharma, SC Malhotra and SK Bapat are others that come to mind in the past 20 odd years.
As in all such matters across sectors, police reshuffles too can be very unceremonious. Pasricha, for instance, was barely four months into the job and on his way to work when he got a call telling him he had been promoted.
Not all changes are unwarranted though. Sadly, some police commissioners in the past were allegedly involved in scams and were even hauled up by the courts: Shrikant Bapat in the MPSC controversy and RS Sharma in the Telgi case.
In fact after the Telgi scam, in 2004, former top cop Julio Ribeiro had submitted a list of “worst IPS officers’’ in Maharashtra (including Mumbai) to the then home minister RR Patil, suggesting they be removed or transferred. (Ribeiro had also given names of efficient and upright officers to be rewarded with better postings and responsibilities.)
But this piece, is not to discuss the merits or demerits of senior police personnel and cases, past or present, rather to argue against the degradation of the commissioner’s post because of excessive political meddling.
Nepotism, cut-throat competition between officers, ‘loyalty’ to one or the other political party and constant chop and change have been the damaging fall-outs of this. That Mumbai has had more than half-a-dozen police commissioners in the past eight years tells its own story.
This is a shameful situation that needs urgent rectification. Surely senior appointments in the police — more particularly the commissioner’s — can’t be handled so cavalierly so as to make the whole process farcical. Indeed, there seems to be no process in place, only ad hocism.
So what can be done? How about a ‘selection committee’ comprising, say, former commissioners of varying vintage (to eliminate bias) that scrutinises the credentials of claimants and recommends a name to the home ministry to ratify?
Not every claimant will be happy, but if the process is handled fairly, with dignity and a vision, the reconciliation will be swifter and without rancour. This will also ensure that changes in the political dispensation in the state do not affect its policing adversely.
Admittedly, this solution is simplistic. But essentially, my argument is that the power and prestige of the police commissioner must be restored back from Mantralaya to Palton Road. That’s where it belongs.