Listening devices and surveillance by the police are now rampant and nobody is spared
The Maharashtra police scandal indicates how difficult it is likely to be for any future non-BJP government at the Centre to deal with ideologically driven bureaucrats and police
Listening devices and surveillance were Narendra Modi’s preferred means of keeping tabs on everyone, including partymen when he was the Gujarat CM. There was not a single phone of consequence which was not tapped. No BJP worker would say much on the phone. You had to meet them at far off places to receive any worthy tip offs. There were always cops without conscience ready to accomplish the task.
In 2014, Union minister Nitin Gadkari discovered bugs in his residence. He was Nagpur’s preferred choice for prime minister. When Devendra Fadnavis became chief minister of Maharashtra, he patronised several top ranking police officers to accomplish a similar goal. Thus was born Rashmi Shukla, former Pune police commissioner, who, as Commissioner of Intelligence, allegedly bugged every room in the New Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi. Sources say there was not a single room in the New Maharashtra Sadan, popular with visiting politicians of both the ruling party and the opposition, where she had not had listening devices placed.
She is said to have been particularly close to the Fadnavis regime, having executed the government’s designs with regard to the Bhima Koregaon activists. She hoped to be rewarded with the ultimate posting as Mumbai police commissioner, which leads either to the Director General of Police office in honour or DG, Home Guards office as punishment.
Shukla could have made history as Mumbai’s first woman police chief. But she made a fundamental mistake. She believed in the assertions of Fadnavis who kept repeating ad nauseum through 2019 that he was returning as chief minister. While in Pune, she is said to have been even rude to NCP president Sharad Pawar. She obviously believed Fadnavis when he asserted that Pawar was past his prime. Pawar, Pune being his home turf, is said to have the memory of an elephant and was unlikely to forget or forgive the slight and reward her with a plum posting. During the formation of the MVA government, Shukla is accused of seeking to pressurize an independent MLA to support the BJP, even offering him money to do so. The MLA, Rajendra Yadravarkar, ultimately chose to side with the NCP and ended up as a minister in the MVA government. He confirms that he was approached by Shukla.
But then Shukla is not the only police officer or bureaucrat working on behalf of the BJP. Minister for Home Anil Deshmukh had earlier said the government knew the identities of those owing loyalty to the BJP. But even Shukla was allowed to get away with just an apology. As Jitendra Awhad, another minister in the MVA, says they made the mistake of believing that loyalties of the officers would revert to the current dispensation as should be the case with all officers every time a new party takes oath of office.
But the MVA was clearly caught by surprise at the extent by which the RSSBJP had infiltrated the police and the bureaucracy. It was only after the Parambir Singh and Rashmi Shukla episodes (she too had written a letter based on her phone tappings to the Director General of Police complaining -ironically - of political interference in police postings and wanted the letter back) that the government acted to transfer out many such officers.
The Maharashtra episode indicates how difficult it is likely to be for any future non-BJP government at the Centre to deal with ideologically driven bureaucrats and police. BJP seems to have created a Frankenstein’s Monster in the belief that it would remain in power forever. But then a deal with the devil is a double-edged sword.
(Sujata Anandan, the writer is a columnist based in Mumbai. Views are personal)