Truth vs Hype: As She Plunges Into Politics, the Kiran Bedi Legend Comes Under Scrutiny


As Kiran Bedi enters the political arena, her record has also come under intense scrutiny.

New Delhi:  Many of Kiran Bedi's governance mantras, now frequently cited after her induction into the BJP as its Delhi chief ministerial candidate, were born out of her experience in Delhi's prison administration. As inspector general of Delhi prisons, she transformed the notorious Tihar jail through a series of measures like meditation and counselling programmes, skills training and setting up small industries, all elaborated in books, articles, and multiple documentary films.

This work, along with that of her two NGOs - India Vision Foundation, which provides vocational training for Tihar inmates and care for their children and Navjyoti India Foundation, which works on crime prevention through education - has formed the bedrock of her reputation as a path breaking police officer, who took on the establishment.

But as Kiran Bedi enters the political arena, her record has also come under intense scrutiny.

One of the most cited examples of Kiran Bedi's lore is that as deputy commissioner of Delhi police for traffic, she towed away Indira Gandhi's car in August 1982, earning her the nickname of Crane Bedi.

The reality chronicled in her own book, I Dare!, is different. It was a sub inspector who gave a parking ticket to a car from the prime minister's pool, wrongly parked in Connaught Place. Moreover, the prime minister was not in the country. Contrary to her claim of being immediately penalised, she was transferred to Goa only a year later.

When asked if she had taken the credit for the work of a junior, Bedi told NDTV said that she ensured that he was rewarded and not punished for the incident.

PRS Brar, former deputy commissioner of Delhi police and her contemporary, recalled how as the Inspector General of Delhi prisons in the early 1990s, Bedi called for a meeting of all senior police officers, where she announced that she will be able to reform all the criminals in jail.

"She said they'll not go back to a life of crime," Brar told NDTV. "It calls for extraordinary confidence to make a claim like that."

Bedi's police record has also been full of abrupt departures from various postings. In 1983, sent as superintendent of police in Goa to oversee the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting, she left abruptly soon after the summit ended.

"She had shortened tenures, whether it was in Goa or Mizoram or even Chandigarh," Brar told us.

In 1990, she was sent to Mizoram as deputy inspector general of police, but was forced to leave due to public anger against the admission of her daughter in Delhi's Lady Hardinge Medical College under a quota for students from the North East.

Bedi said Mizoram's then governor, Swaraj Kaushal, she said, had told her to leave in order to get the curfew lifted. "Whatever happened was with his concurrence," she told us. "He said, 'Kiran if you make yourself scarce we can get these curfews lifted.'"

She told NDTV that her daughter's admission was under a permitted quota. "The rules were that if you've studied in Mizoram [or] living in Mizoram [and] qualify on merit, then you can get a seat," she said.    

By 2007, Bedi was eligible to become Delhi Police Commissioner, but was passed over, the job going instead to YS Dadwal, two years her junior. Bedi had been vocal in her criticism of the decision, going on protest leave immediately after and retiring from the Indian Police Services later that year.

The rejection, several commentators pointed out, revealed an inherent sexism in the administration. Others believe it was due to Bedi's relative inexperience in ground policing. Brar had a third explanation: "Probably Home Ministry felt that she was too strong-willed to be a conformist."

Kiran Bedi sees her being passed up as a political decision. "The party in power at that time was the UPA," she said.

Regardless of the reason, the slight was never forgotten. Many believe it is what drives her even today.

"They must be regretting it," she said. "But you know what they did? They set me free."

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