Monday, July 30, 2007

Debunking Kiran Bedi

Kiran Bedi has been in the news ever since she became India's first woman IPS officer (in the seventies?), and she has enjoyed a largely positive coverage. In the past week or so, she has chosen to put up a high-profile fight against not getting Delhi Police's top job (worse, a junior got the job!), and media have been quite supportive in this fight too. Given this background, this column by Pankaj Vohra comes as a surprise:

The myth about her ‘excellent track record’ can be shattered if one follows her performance as a police officer. Bedi must be one of the very few IPS officers in the country who has not been awarded the two medals — the Police Medal of Meritorious Service (after 15 years service) and the Police Medal for Distinguished Service (after 21 years), which everyone gets as a matter of routine. She has had difficulty in completing her tenures anywhere. She has always left her postings under circumstances which would have attracted extreme disciplinary action had Bedi not been a woman and media darling.

For instance, she was in Goa during the CHOGM in the early 1980s and left her post after a disagreement with the Secretary, R&AW and DIB without informing her immediate superior. She was in Mizoram where an agitation erupted because of her and she left for Delhi quietly without informing her boss who discovered to his horror that the operational officer was missing from her post only when he inquired about her the following day. In Delhi, she had a controversial tenure in the West District. As Traffic DCP, she is remembered as “Crane” Bedi, but she had to vacate the position on account of her mishandling of the traffic problem.

Vohra goes on to list a whole lot more of Bedi's mistakes and official 'indiscretions' (as he keeps referring to them) to back up two related claims. The first is that "a male police officer may not even have been part of the IPS with so many indiscretions in his record," and the second is that "gender has always worked in her favour, never against her." Needless to say, these are sharp words indeed.

In private industry, if you are passed over for a promotion, you face essentially two choices: accept the verdict and work with the new boss, or leave the company. You will be laughed at if you go public with grievances such as a junior getting the job you coveted.

In the public sector, however, you can appeal to Administrative Tribunals when you feel you have been treated unfairly, and 'seniority' seems to hold some sanctity. It's possible that Bedi has already taken her case to such a body. If so, I don't quite see the point of her case being discussed in public, since we -- as outsiders -- have very little knowledge not only of how our administrative set up functions, but also of how one specific person's record stacks up against another's.

Bedi herself seems to have set in motion this round of 'trial by media,' and I am sure she's busy preparing a rebuttal to Vohra's column. We'll wait and see how she responds.