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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 6 February 10, 2024

An honest police officer speaks but questions remain | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Friday 9 February 2024, by M R Narayan Swamy



Crime, Grime and Gumption: Case Files of an IPS Officer
by O.P. Singh

Penguin Random House
235 pages; Price: Rs 499
ISBN: 9780143464167
235pages; Price: Rs 499

It is indeed a remarkable personal triumph when a 14-year-old who goes to a police station in a rural part of Bihar and is told to return home to fetch writing paper if he wants to report a theft in his house eventually becomes the police chief of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The state of rural police station he saw as a teenager etched in his memory, O.P. Singh ended up carrying out reforms in every police force he served, winning awards and accolades.

This is truly an admirable life story – an autobiography actually – of an Indian Police Officer (IPS) who admits that choosing to be a policeman in this country “is an unforgettable challenge”. One’s professional ethics and excellence can go for a six if an officer gets trapped in the grimy world of caste, underworld and politics. Singh should know.

He was the officer who, with select colleagues, did his best to protect BSP chief Mayawati and her MLAs at the state Guest House in Lucknow on June 2, 1995 from a frenzied mob after she withdrew support to the government of Mulayam Singh Yadav. But for all his pains, Singh was branded the villain of one of India’s most ugly political episodes.

False and malicious FIRs followed as two friend-turned-foe political parties played out their dirty power games. In a desperate bid to save his post (which he could not), Mulayam Singh Yadav shunted out Singh as the Senior Superintendent of Police of Lucknow. The moment Mayawati became the chief minister, he was also suspended from service – a professional humiliation from which he came out only after 150 agonizing days. It did not help matters that Mayawati and her mentor Kanshi Ram had only the previous year demanded his transfer and suspension over the killing of a Gujjar warlord, Mahendra Fauji, in a gun battle with the police. Singh had headed the police in Bulandshahr district then. At that time, Mulayam Singh Yadav, despite his dependence on the BSP, had firmly put foot his down.

Singh also reveals candidly how he got into a mess after arresting a relative of an Uttar Pradesh Congress minister in 1988. The relative, Raghunandan Singh Chauhan, allegedly specialized in forcibly evicting tenants from homes embroiled in judicial disputes. He was again given the marching orders as the Superintendent of Police of Aligarh but mercifully the transfer was withdrawn following a tsunami of popular protests.

On both occasions, Singh laments that while he could understand the stand of his political masters, he was unsettled by the conduct of some of his seniors. After his suspension by Mayawati, he overnight became a pariah for his senior but spineless colleagues. One IPS officer who Singh went to meet rudely turned him out of his office. Even his close friends avoided him. Other officers did not know what to do. “It was a detestable example that my seniors set for juniors like me.”

Singh was posted the Superintendent of Police of Terai district in 1992 when Khalistani terrorism began to take roots in the sprawling region adjoining Nepal. It was a dark era when terrorists not only killed innocents at will but the police force became terrorized after suffering heavily at the hands of the well-armed Khalistanis. After numerous months of slogging and struggling when the dance of death continued, and during which Singh and a colleague occupied the top slot in the terrorist target list, peace eventually returned to the region where hard-working Sikhs have for decades lived in large numbers. The officer was pleasantly surprised when the Uttar Pradesh Sikh Pratinidhi Board felicitated him. This was in recognition of the way he brought a turnaround without putting innocent Sikhs to any trouble.

Thanks to his professionalism which was widely recognized, Singh held a variety of key posts. As the head of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), he and his men battled the unprecedented floods which ravaged Kashmir in 2014, the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and the forest fires which engulfed Uttarakhand in 2016. The NDRF, set up two years after the 2004 tsunami, has grown into the world’s single-largest dedicated disaster response force. Its challenges can be understood given that the number of people in India directly affected by disasters in just two decades ending in 2010 was almost one billion! Singh brought about positive changes in the organization that led to many countries show a willingness to set up a similar model. He later went on to head the more prestigious Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).

Singh’s most challenging assignment before he retired was heading the Uttar Pradesh Police from the last day of 2017. It was a force he knew well, and it certainly did not have a great reputation. Beside communal violence and crimes against women, there was rampant corruption in the state, all of which affected the police. Worse, in some cases, police personnel were found running extortion rackets and looting traders. He gives full credit to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who he found to be a no-nonsense politician who had a focussed approach to governance. The Chief Minister made his priorities clear: “I want a corrupt-free, crime-free, mafia-free state where every individual feels and lives fearlessly.” Singh was given a free hand to deliver results – and he did that.

This book makes great reading on more than one count. It is pleasing to know that the Indian system, despite its faults, allows people from the most rural areas to come up truly well as long as they have talent and an aptitude for the right job. Readers will be truly happy to know that here was a straightforward officer who did his job meticulously, without fear or favour, even if it rubbed some politicians the wrong way. But where Singh disappoints is the way he describes his two-year reign as the head of the Uttar Pradesh Police without mentioning how he dealt with issues of communal nature. It is fairly well known that Muslims, India’s largest religious group, largely live in fear in Uttar Pradesh. The reasons are not hidden. Singh’s descriptive of his years in Uttar Pradesh would make you feel that this was probably not true. There were no instances of high-handedness against Muslims in the state when he headed the police? No Muslim suffered because the state and its organs were wilfully biased? A lack of FIR or complaint does not mean a rosy life. Sadly, Singh throws no light. It may not be a coincidence that Singh comes out as very differential to Adityanath, who is described with adjectives like “esteemed” and called an “extremely humane and benevolent personality”. Adityanath may be all these but was everyone in his BJP also moulded similarly? Unlike the way he exposes Mulayam, Mayawati and a Congress minister, Singh’s story is silent on this chapter of his career.

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