Kiran Bedi Ruining Her Reputation By Over-Ruling Chief Minister

Published: January 09, 2017 12:32 IST
In my mind, there are many images of Kiran Bedi which keep coming back to me, making me ponder which is the true Kiran Bedi. I first heard about her in 1988 when she did not spare the lawyers of Delhi and lathi-charged them for agitating for handcuffing a lawyer on the charges of theft. She earned notoriety and also the admiration of the middle class for being a tough customer and a law enforcer. Then another Kiran Bedi emerged, a compassionate police officer who was hell bent on jail reforms. The next time I heard about her was when she was fighting in the male bastion of the police force to be the police commissioner of Delhi, a position that was denied to her. The main reason for this was the impression of her being too hot-headed and not pliable which would be detrimental to the interests of the political class. 

Then, one fine morning, she was in Delhi's Ram Lila Ground, vigorously waving the national flag, the crowd going berserk. This was a new avatar of Kiran Bedi - out of the establishment and challenging the establishment. This was the time of the Anna Movement, and it was the month of August 2011. Along with Anna, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, Kiran formed a formidable team of crusaders. She was loved. She appeared to personify the spirit of nationalism personified. The splitting of the Anna team was painful. She decided to side with Anna. And the slide started. 
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Kiran Bedi at the venue of a hunger strike by Anna Hazare in New Delhi on August 19, 2011.

Her image changed again. Now, she was contesting the Delhi assembly elections as the Chief Ministerial candidate of the BJP. I was stunned. The crusader Kiran of Ram Lila Grounds and the politician Kiran did not merge well. She decided to be the establishment which she earlier wanted to fight and change. The people of Delhi rejected her; she lost from her own constituency against an unknown contestant. The iconic image which she had carried for so long and for which she was admired for decades suddenly just melted away. She was no different, she was like any traditional politician, the types she had hated or asked her admirers to hate. The people did not accept her. 

Now the crusader was gone, a power-seeker was born. It was accepted that very soon she would be given some gubernatorial position. And sure enough, it was not long before she was bestowed with the post of Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry. She became part of the Modi team. At least I had not thought that she would come this far from where she had begun. In my mind, her iconic image was broken. I knew she wouldn't be like any other governor. If she had been given charge of a Congress-ruled state, then it was obvious that she would be expected to do dirty jobs which did not behoove a person of her stature. I knew that very soon she would be asked or required to behave like the former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Mr Najeeb Jung, or like the Governors of Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. I was not too wrong.

It is known that Kiran is always hyper-active but the post of LGs and Governors demands a certain kind of deportment. They are expected to be the guardians of the constitution and also an agent of centre. Citizens and founders of the constitution had visualised them to be more like father figures to guide and advise the elected government of the day. According to the spirit of the constitution, they are better as passive and titular functionaries, but as is evident over the years, Governor houses have become a den of dirty politics, violating the will of the people. From the very first day that she took charge, Kiran Bedi refused to be just a titular head and created another power centre in Puducherry.
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BJP's then Chief Ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi at an election rally in Delhi (File photo)

She started giving instructions to government officials, bypassing the government. She began holding a janta darbar, listening to grievances of the common man on a first-come-first-serve basis and passing orders. She took keen interest in the policing of the state. Puducherry is different from Delhi, and unlike the national capital, the police force here falls in the purview of the elected government. The elected government objected to her doing so but she did not relent. Matters then reached a flash point. She had asked senior government officers including secretaries to form a WhatsApp group and keep her informed about the decisions and actions taken by the various departments. And this was when the Congress Chief Minister, V Narayanaswamy, reacted. He passed an order against the forming of any social media group, and if it were really required, then permission had to be sought from the Chief Secretary. Kiran Bedi was at that time in Delhi. She passed an order on Twitter declaring the Chief Minister's order "null and void". This seemed to be a replica of the Najeeb Jung model. This is outrageous. 

Like Delhi, it raises similar questions - who is the true administrator of Puducherry? The Chief Minister or the LG? According to the Indian constitution, the Chief Minister is the elected constitutional functionary and represents the sovereign will of the people. And since India has opted for people's democracy, the elected representative must have the final say, otherwise democracy will turn into a facade. The Indian constitution clearly underlines the fact that Governors and LGs are not elected individuals. It was profoundly debated during the drafting of the constitution and it was then understood that an elected Governor would create a parallel power centre in the state, leading to daily fights with the administration suffering as a consequence. So it was decided to have selected or appointed Governors and LGs. But unfortunately from the very first day, the Modi government has undermined this fundamental of our constitution. 
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PM Narendra Modi and Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi (File photo)

In Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, Governors went to the extent of sacking an elected government which was finally rectified by the Supreme Court with terse observations on the role of Governors. In Delhi, the LG was let loose on the elected government. Kiran Bedi borrowed that most ill-famous phrase used by Jung - "Null and Void". My point here is not that by trying to wield power in an underhand way in Puducherry, she is trying to fulfill the ambitions of holding power that were dashed when she did not become the Chief minister of Delhi; I am raising a far more serious issue. 

If India has opted for democracy, then the Chief Minister is the final arbiter of the administration and governance, not the Governor or LG. But earlier Indira Gandhi and now Modi have undermined that principle, especially in opposition-ruled states. This is part of a larger design. The RSS has not reconciled to the federal structure of the constitution; they prefer a unitary form of government in their false illusion that India needs a very strong state and that a federation of states is weakness. This ideological position is diametrically opposite to the cultural fabric of India which believes and breaths diversity at every step. And any attempt to undermine that will have dangerous consequences.

Secondly, Modi's style of functioning does not leave any space for opposition and voice of dissent. He is hell-bent on crushing all voices of dissent or discordant noises from every sphere of politics. Kiran Bedi should realise that her present action will tarnish her past glory and reputation. She does not need a position to enhance her iconic status in the eyes of the people. History will not remember her as  the LG of Puducherry but as someone who fought with the establishment without any fear and favour. A generation of women and girls emulated her. They wanted to be like her. She was an idol. She was an inspiration for many movies in India. If she is seen to be compromising or hobnobbing with the establishment for position, then popular narrative will not be kind to her and her past.

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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