Yes, sir. No, sir. Three bagsful, sir!

When Maharashtra’s Home Minister R R Patil first mooted the transfer of Bombay’s police commissioner Arup Patnaik a day after some Muslim groups ran riot at the Azad Maidan on August 11, 2012, I am told, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told him, “If Patnaik goes, so do you”.

Patnaik was initially picked for the top job by the NCP component of the government in Maharashtra. But having a mind of his own, he soon worked out where the balance of power lay: with the chief minister and his deputy Ajit Pawar; most certainly not with the state’s home minister.

But since Ajit could not interfere in matters relating to the home department, Patnaik began to take his orders directly from the CM. This also meant that he persuaded Chavan that police transfers should not be left in political hands for extraneous considerations but should be done at the behest of senior police officers who know precisely the requirements of the posts and which personnel might be suited to which position – or not.

I am told, convinced by that point of view, Chavan then cancelled a slew of transfers that Patil had ordered, thus further reducing the Home Minister’s place in the scheme of things — and this has been getting the NCP’s goat for a long time now. So while Patil might be insulting our intelligence when he says that redesignating Patnaik as a director general of police is actually a promotion for the man in the eye of the storm ever since August 11, he is dead right when he claims that the move to transfer Patnaik was planned long before. I quite believe that. Patil seems simply to have taken advantage of the confusion over Patnaik’s action on August 11 and effected the transfer with the help of his own boss, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, who used his influence with Chavan’s bosses in New Delhi to accomplish the task.

Chavan has been speaking out against this divisive arrangement in the Maharashtra government ever since the July 13, 2011 blasts in Bombay and, given the complete incompetence of the Home Minister, he has gone ahead and effected his own decisions over the past year. Earlier, even former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had made a similar case for vesting the authority over law and order in just one office – Patil had proved similarly ineffective in dealing with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray’s shenanigans against North Indians some years ago. When the violence seemed unstoppable, Deshmukh had called in Patil and overruled his decisions on direction from his party high command in New Delhi who were themselves forced to act under pressure from allies like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Raj was ordered arrested; he has since been embroiled in a slew of cases and the MNS has backed off ever since.

I have also been told by several police officers that this unnatural arrangement only succeeds in dividing their loyalties and does not allow them a free hand to deal with situations as they deem fit. They might find it possible to go entirely by what the home minister says – but they clearly recognise that the present incumbent is unfit for the job, does not have a mind of his own and does not even earn the respect of the people he lords over.

However, there are other political compulsions and these arise from the divided loyalties within the NCP itself. Patil is a complete `yes man’ of Sharad Pawar’s while most other ministers in the government are today rooting for his nephew Ajit, who now seems to have his own problems with his own uncle. Under the circumstances, having someone who can honestly deliver the goods to him is very important to Pawar and he cannot afford to have Patil ignored or humiliated by the officers he is supposed to lead.

But while this move does not in any way bring any credit to Patil – there is a growing clamour for his resignation as well — it only ends up demoralising the police force even more. Henceforward it might be correct to presume that no cop can use his own mind to deal with tense situations on the ground. He might have to anticipate the minds of all his bosses (in this case three) and even so might end up annoying one or more. Under the circumstances, he might not be able to act professionally and a lot of errors of omission, if not commission, might creep in.

Pawar has been the chief minister of Maharashtra more than once and he should well know how this arrangement – arrived at in 1995 when the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came to power and Gopinath Munde wished to feel equal to then chief minister Manohar Joshi – might work against the state’s interests. However, I believe, it is unlikely he will add Patil’s scalp to his belt because he is himself in need of a yes man in that position. Moreover, even if the NCP is still allowed to hold the post, he would not want to risk anyone with an independent mind in that job.

The Congress and the NCP had blindly continued with the Sena-BJP arrangements when they hastily forged their own alliance in 1999 after a split three months before coming to power that year. The Sena-BJP’s division of portfolios, though, was tuned to the fact that the BJP was Big Brother at the Centre while the Shiv Sena was clearly the major partner in Maharashtra. That, however, is just not so so far as the Congress and the NCP are concerned – it is a clearly stated fact now that the NCP can win no election without the Congress and the latter is Big Brother both in the state and at the Centre. Hence, there should be an intelligent division of departments between the two. But I do not believe that Pawar would want to change the arrangement for the best (and most paying in electoral terms) departments are with the NCP — his party might be reduced to nothing if he cedes even one such portfolio to the Congress.

So personal agendas, individual egos and electoral needs will continue to come in the way of competence and good governance while the search for yes men in every position continues.

Meanwhile, peace, harmony and the social fabric of both the state and the nation might continue to be in peril.

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