BJP: The curious case of Crane Bedi!

A few weeks in politics is all it took for India’s first woman IPS officer to earn the nickname of bhagoda

Shazia Nigar Delhi 

Politics can destroy the best of reputations. Take, for example, celebrated former cop and Delhi BJP chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi. For years, she was an icon for many young men and women who saw in her persona the change they wanted to see around.

A few weeks in politics is all it took for Bedi to make a shift from being referred to as ‘Crane Bedi’ to ‘bhagoda’. She derived the earlier tag when an urban legend began doing the rounds: as Delhi Commissioner of Police, Traffic, she had towed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car for violating traffic rules. The latter adage of ‘bhagoda’ was a result of her early exit from an Arnab Goswami TV show. As the clip shows, the latter actually happened. However, her title of Crane Bedi was not as well deserved as she would like us to believe.

In a recent interview, Ravish Kumar of NDTV asked her if she had herself towed away the PM’s car and if the PM was in the car at the time. To which she replied, “Do you expect a DCP (Deputy Commissioner of Police) to be towing away cars? It is my unit which is to do its job, it was the unsparing policy I followed as DCP, Traffic.” It has also been revealed that the PM was abroad at the time. For years, this myth was given much credence and revived once again when Bedi took centrestage as the chief ministerial candidate. To quote from her official website: “Due to presence of large number of cranes to remove wrongly parked vehicles—including that of the former Prime Minister, she was nicknamed ‘Crane Bedi’.” Not just on her website, Bedi also propagated this myth, tactfully, at an inspiring TED Talk given by her in December 2010. “This is the first time Prime Minister of India was given a parking ticket. That’s the first time in India and I can tell you that’s the last time you are hearing about it. It will never happen in India again because now it was once and forever.” About her tenure as DCP, Traffic Police, Delhi, she says, “Because I was sensitive, I was compassionate, I was very sensitive to injustice and I was very pro-justice. That’s the reason as a woman I joined the Indian Police Services.” She then transitions to her transfer as Inspector General of Prisons, Tihar Jail, by saying, “Now there would be no cars and no VIPs to give tickets to, let’s lock her up.”

At the TED Talk, as with her speeches and interviews elsewhere, she delivers her address with conviction, pauses for reactions and elicits the right ones too. Yet, there is something contrived, almost forceful, behind what appears to be assertiveness. It could just be her habit of interspersing little capsules of information that sound like they are jumping out of a copy editor’s first draft—“Power to Prevent, Power to Detect and Power to Punish is how I redefined policing in India,” she says, lifting her arm slightly and bringing it down to emphasise each of the three points. According to Bedi, the solution to Delhi’s problems lies in her 6 P’s Formula: “Parents and Principals, People, Police, Prosecution, Prisons and Press.” This same formula, with the exception of P for People being replaced by P for Politicians, is also her answer to questions related to women’s security. To complement this, she also tweeted a 5 S’s Formula for women’s empowerment: “Five S for Delhi _Saaksher, Swasth, Sakshum, Surakshit and Sanskari, Dilli>>>Meaning--.literate,healthy, capable, secure, and ethical!”

While her 6 P’s or 5 S’s formulae for women’s safety are yet to be tried and tested, her opinion on what is womanly or girly is quite contestable. On Rendezvous with Simi Garewal (2003), a show known for the host’s eccentric preference for white, the conversation between Bedi and Garewal went like this: Garewal, with the raise of an eyebrow and a pensive tinge to her face that one would ordinarily reserve for matters of gravity, asked, “Do you do girly-girly things?” Bedi chuckled and replied, “Girly-girly things. None. Left them long, long ago. It’s been books and racquets. Then on to my work. No girly-girly things.”

All these P’s and S’s make Bedi’s interviews and speeches sound like a Power Point presentation prepared for MBA students. That she constantly brings up other P’s, namely Public-Private Partnership, to explain how she will generate cheap electricity or increase employment, only heightens
this sense.

Until now seen as a tough, no-nonsense administrator, a series of other goof-ups on her part have sent the BJP into jitters. The party, which until now had been propping up Bedi, an erstwhile comrade of Arvind Kejriwal in his crusade against corruption, as its trump card, is now in damage control mode. According to journalist Aditya Menon, “Bedi has apparently been asked to restrict her statements to women’s safety issues. The question now no longer is whether Kiran Bedi can take on Kejriwal, it is whether the BJP can contain the damage in time, with polling day just ten days away.” This could well be a summation of Bedi’s brief political career until now.

Touted as and often seen flaunting it herself, Bedi is India’s first woman IPS officer. She has had a way with the media that no other public administrator has enjoyed. Be it for being denied the post of Delhi Police Commissioner or apparently towing away the PM’s car, she has time and again managed to carve out space for herself in national dailies. One would think her association with India Against Corruption (IAC) would have taught her a lesson about public life and given her more street credibility but, on the contrary, it has only led her into deeper waters. She participated in the IAC protests with gusto and enthusiasm. She was so involved in the entire movement that she cast aside the stiffness of a police official and did a jig onstage, covering her head with a ghungat. Mercifully, those pictures have not surfaced even if her angry tweets have.

A series of her tweets from those times have been dug out by social media enthusiasts, demanding an explanation for her ‘U-turn’.  “One day NaMo will need to respond with clarity about Gujarat massacre. Despite courts clearing him so far,” says a tweet by Bedi dated March 16, 2013. Another one questioning a weak Lokayukta in Gujarat, then under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi, who Bedi now refers to as her super hero, says, “Key Q for April 9th, FICCI event for NaMo be: why has Guj Assembly passed a ‘controlled’ Lokayukt? Lets see if some dare to?” AAP too is retweeting Bedi’s old tweets that reveal an obvious hypocrisy in her politics. “TOI news report from 26 Jan 2010.1/3 MP of Cong+BJP+ have criminal cases pending! What did they do?” is one such retweet by AAP. 

That Bedi has had a change of heart is apparent. From throwing tough questions at the BJP, she has decided to be part of it. However, she has not bothered to clarify what led to this shift, despite being asked repeatedly. To make matters worse, not only did she turn down Kejriwal’s challenge for a debate but she has also blocked him on Twitter.

Her image as a clean and no-nonsense administrator has also been brought into question. A 25-year-old case presided over by Justice DP Wadhwa, then a judge in Delhi High Court, involving clashes between Bedi, who was then Deputy Commissioner of Police, North Delhi, and a group of lawyers has resurfaced and stoked controversy. On January 15, 1988, lawyer Rajesh Agnihotri had been apprehended stealing into the common room of the ladies’ hostel in Delhi University. This provoked a group of lawyers to go on strike at the Tees Hazari Court complex, where Bedi’s office was located. She ordered a lathicharge on the lawyers. Calling the FIR “a false document”, Wadhwa said the “lathicharge was the result of personal vendetta which Kiran Bedi was nursing against the lawyers and was without any provocation”. While debunking her version of the clash, Wadhwa pointed out the contradictions between contemporaneous police records and the claims she had subsequently made before the committee. Probing a third incident that involved a mob of 4,000 men vandalising lawyers’ chambers and cars  at the Tees Hazari complex, Wadhwa said  the mob had been brought in by municipal councillor Rajesh Yadav in connivance with Bedi.

Wadhwa remarks, “She certainly had a great deal of influence on her subordinates. They fell all too easily under her spell and filed affidavits in these proceedings which were not true and they did so in order to bail her out. She, on her part, shifted responsibility for the illegalities committed by her on her colleagues and subordinates though claiming only moral responsibility. I find this conduct of hers deplorable. Because of the popularity which Kiran Bedi was enjoying on account of the good deal of publicity in the newspapers and TV media and the influence which she had with the powers that be, even the senior officers in the police headquarters just caved in and adopted an attitude of see nothing, hear nothing and do nothing, even when it was so obvious that grave illegalities had been committed.”

Bedi has recently said that regularisation of slums in New Delhi will be done as per the ‘Maharashtra model’. Not only was that model implemented under the Congress government but it is also one of the largest urban transport infrastructure and resettlement projects funded by the World Bank. It also happens to be one that has been severely criticised for providing inadequate compensation and poor housing facilities. So much so that slumdwellers of Jogeshwari and Kurla had filed a complaint with the World Bank on the rehabilitation and resettlement procedures. Bedi’s efficient administrator image might have served her well until her IAC days, but as a chief ministerial candidate one would expect that she be familiar with the adverse impacts of projects she intends to implement for those who might vote for her.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2015