Mumbai Police commissioner Satyapal Singh addresses a press conference in Mumbai. (PTI Photo)
Dr Satyapal Singh took people by surprise when he declared that he was seeking voluntary retirement from the Indian Police Service, thereby stepping down as Mumbai police commissioner, to play an active role in politics. Or did he? Those who have seen him at close quarters, especially in the last two-three years, spoke of his growing enchantment with politics and a desire to do "netagiri".
Nurturing political dreams is certainly not criminal under any section of the Indian Penal Code or the service rules that govern IAS/IPS officers. It's the circumstances surrounding Singh's resignation, the haste with which it was accepted, and his statements within 24 hours that raise several questions for us as citizens of Mumbai.
Singh was, by his curriculum vitae, an accomplished officer. Many of those accomplishments were in the fields of chemistry, public administration and Hindu mythological and religious texts. His ability to quote line and verse from the shastras marked him--and his policing--out almost a decade ago as he occupied senior positions in the Maharashtra and Mumbai police. It had impressed politicians and journalists then.
Now, it seems a piece of a disturbing pattern and forces us to ask the question: to what extent did Singh allow his personal beliefs and politics to intrude into his policing decisions? We will never fully know. Likewise, we won't know in whose favour he invoked the discretions that he had as the most powerful man in khakhi in Mumbai where several interest groups compete overtly and covertly for political and policing favours. We also won't know on which occasions he allowed the neutrality, demanded by his position, to be compromised by his future ambitions and political calculations.
A day after he shed the khakhi uniform and all pretensions of non-bias, Singh lamented that "those staying 'neutral' will be judged adversely by history", because it was the time to take sides and "we should help Modi". Did he take that side on the night of January 31st after he had walked out of the Mumbai police commissionerate office for the last time? Seriously, it's hard to believe that.
His affinity to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's world-view and his jaundiced view of Muslims were well-known; now, it would be safe to assume that it must have been this ideological bias that made him put out a research paper on how the Konkan strip was being over-taken by Islamic extremists, and recuse himself from heading a court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the Ishrat Jahan encounter case.
His public pronouncements on women and morality--"On the one hand you want to have a promiscuous culture and on the other hand you want a safe and secure environment" or "countries with sex education only have an increased number of crimes against women"--do not sound as shocking now because it wasn't police commissioner Singh talking; it was a middle-aged Hindutva-believer judging us.
That his resignation was accepted in a day and he was let off without the mandatory three months' notice period raises more questions. Why did the state government play with such soft hands? The debate about formalising a cooling-off period for all-India service officers before joining politics will get nowhere unless the central government amends the all-India service rules.
The Election Commission had submitted a proposal last April and the central government had "accepted it in principle". The Parliament had even discussed this and the then union law minister Ashwani Kumar had told the Lok Sabha that amending the rules would take a few months. But the rules remain unchanged.
Singh is not the first officer to go down this road but his preference for a political career, and the manner in which he embraced it, has made the amendment more urgent. Mumbai's police commissioner has to be - and must be seen to be - neutral.