The Narendra Modi government named on Sunday former top police officer-turned-politician Kiran Bedi as the lieutenant-governor of Puducherry, just days after the opposition Congress wrested power in this centrally administered territory.
The 66-year-old Bedi, the country’s first woman to serve the elite Indian Police Service, joined the ruling BJP in January 2015 and was the party’s chief-ministerial candidate in its disastrous Delhi assembly election.
She was blamed for the party’s drubbing as the Aam Aadmi Party, led by her former ally Arvind Kejriwal, won 67 of the 70 seats. Bedi even lost in her constituency.
“I am trustworthy in terms of governance. I’m going to live up to that,” she told a television channel soon after her appointment was announced by the President’s office.
During an illustrious career, Bedi picked a reputation as a stickler for the law. She is remembered for transforming Tihar, Asia’s largest prison, into a reformist penitentiary. While in service and after retirement, Bedi was a model for young girls aspiring to join public service.
“My priority will be a bottom-up approach. I would like to make a constable and a schoolteacher feel that he or she is the most important … I don’t consider it as power; to me it’s a resource to deliver,” said Bedi, who will be succeeding sacked UPA nominee Virendra Kataria at the Raj Bhawan in the small former French colony.
A second phase of her public activism started when she plunged right into the centre of the Anna Hazare movement against corruption, alongside Kejriwal, building on her fame as an upright policewoman and targeting the Congress-led UPA government. She joined the BJP after falling out with Kejriwal.
Delhi chief minister Kejriwal, who refrained from attacking Bedi directly despite an acrimonious campaign against the BJP during the 2015 assembly polls, congratulated her via Twitter. “My best wishes to Kiran Didi for this new role,” he tweeted.
But the Janata Dal (United) called her new assignment a “political” appointment to serve the ruling party’s interests. “They are first appointed and then misused. Even during Congress time political appointments were made. Then we and BJP used to oppose it together. Now these appointments are being made by the BJP as well,” party general secretary KC Tyagi told PTI.
The appointment came three days after the Congress-DMK alliance won 17 seats in the 30-member Puducherry assembly. AIADMK won four seats while the BJP could not open its account.
Bedi, a 1972-batch IPS officer who took voluntary retirement in 2007, has been no stranger to controversy.
At the height of the anti-corruption agitation, she drew flak for saying the media did not go after corrupt politicians as much as they pursued “small rape case or assault”. In 2011, she faced allegations of charging business-class fares to her hosts when called to participate in events, but travelling on discounted economy-class tickets instead. She denied the charges.
A sports lover, an author, and recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award and the UN Medal for outstanding service, this Delhi University law graduate and PhD from IIT Delhi has a wide range of administrative experience. She was secretary to Delhi’s former lieutenant-governor Tejinder Khanna during 1998-99.