The Print

The police force in India’s capital is working on perception management. Delhi Police commissioner Rakesh Asthana has reportedly created a separate division to ensure “rightful propagation of its efforts towards public safety,” the Times of India reported last week.

Asthana’s predecessor, SN Srivastava, had a point when he spoke of the need for Delhi Police’s “image makeover” in an article in the Indian Express last June.

Delhi Police certainly did an outstanding job during the pandemic. They were on roads 24×7, helping people in need when all of us were hiding in our safe homes. Around 13,500 Delhi Police personnel tested positive for Covid-19 and 77 succumbed to it (until 9 June 2021 when Srivastava wrote the article). Did their political bosses do anything for their families beyond paying lip service? Let’s not even talk about it.

The JNU case

What Srivastava didn’t say, as some senior officers pointed out to me later, was how his junior colleagues would plead with him to allow them to act in the case of the well-organised attack on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in the national capital. Special commissioner Sanjay Baniwal, who has been entrusted with the task of perception management, must find it very tough. How will he showcase the public safety record of a police force that hasn’t been able to arrest a single person even 21 months after dozens of masked and armed persons entered the JNU campus and brutally attacked students for hours? How’ll he make the police force look good when judges are passing strictures against them for shoddy investigations in riots cases?

The Delhi Police have enough competent officers to answer these questions within days if only their political bosses allow them. They won’t need any perception management division then. How can Delhi Police change their image when those of their bosses sitting in the North Block are taking a heavy beating? Think of an honest, upright Delhi Police officer being ordered around by a murder-accused who assists Union Home Minister Amit Shah in running the ministry.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has picked up three ministers of state for home, Shah’s deputies — Nityanand Rai, Nisith Pramanik, and Ajay Mishra Teni. Take a look at the affidavits that were submitted to the Election Commission while filing their nomination papers in the last election that they contested.

Ministers with criminal cases

Ajay Mishra Teni of Lakhimpur Kheri infamy had trouble written all over him when PM Modi picked him as a minister in his government last July, and that too with the home portfolio, mind you. A high court is keeping its judgment reserved on an appeal against Mishra’s acquittal in a murder case. Even if one were to presume that the PM anticipated his acquittal by the high court and wasn’t aware of the omissions and commissions of his ‘Dabang‘ MP from Lakhimpur Kheri, what made Mishra so fit for the home portfolio in Modi’s eyes?

Nisith Pramanik, 36, the youngest member in Modi’s council of ministers, has 13 criminal cases pending against him, according to his affidavit in 2021, when he successfully contested assembly election from Dinhata in West Bengal. Giving details of the cases against him, the Coochbehar MP informed that he was facing allegations of murder, attempted murder, causing grievous hurt, making preparations for dacoity, and possessing illegal arms, among others.

There are other charges such as cheating, criminal intimidation, rioting, outraging the modesty of a woman, unlawful assembly, obstructing public servant in discharge of his duty, disobedience to disobey order duly promulgated by a public servant, voluntarily causing hurt, preventing a public servant from discharging his official duty, theft, and dishonestly receiving stolen property knowing it’s stolen.

Again, what so eminently qualified Nisith Pramanik for the home portfolio? Better still, as minister of state for youth affairs and sports, Pramanik is also expected to inspire the youth.

The third, minister of state for home, Nityanand Rai, faces charges of extortion, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, and joining unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapons, among others.

Modi-Shah baiters may point out there are four criminal cases against Shah, too: two each in Bengal and Bihar. They relate to alleged criminal intimidation, intentional insult with intent to breach peace, and promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, among others.

But, to be fair to Shah, these charges seem to be more political than criminal. When someone lodges an FIR against Shah for flag-hoisting while wearing a chappal, and another does it for Shah calling Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav a ‘chara chor‘, the political intent behind these charges doesn’t need much elaboration.

The Modi-Shah rationale

The moot point is why would PM Modi give Amit Shah three deputies who face criminal charges, There could be three plausible reasons. First, that Modi goes by the legal principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Second, that he is convinced that the charges against BJP leaders, be they of murder or attempt to murder, are all trumped up. And third, that he doesn’t care. Of the 78 ministers in the BJP-led government at the Centre, about 42 per cent, or 33 ministers, have criminal cases pending against them, an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) showed. Out of these 33, 24 have serious cases like murder, attempt to murder, and robbery pending against them.

So, obviously, when it comes to his perception of the alleged criminal background of his ministers, the first, second, or all three reasons cited above could be true. There could still be a fourth: a strong and decisive PM never yields to the Opposition, notwithstanding the merits or demerits of their demand. So, he won’t drop Ajay Mishra from his government, despite clear evidence of his provocative speech triggering farmers’ unrest and ownership of a vehicle that mowed down farmers. He would have probably thought about it if Priyanka Gandhi Vadra or Rakesh Tikait hadn’t demanded it.

Asthana, the police commissioner, mustn’t, therefore, lose his sleep over the Delhi Police’s image. It doesn’t matter. If he still doesn’t get it, he should seek an appointment with one of his bosses — Ajay Mishra Teni.

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