Kiran Bedi’s national prominence is undisputed. Bedi was the first woman to have joined the officer ranks of Indian Police Service (IPS). During her 35-year tenure, she reached the highest rank of the IPS (Director General of Police Research and Development). Bedi had also served as police advisor to Secretary General in United Nations in the Department of Peace Keeping Operations in New York.
However, given her disastrous performance in the 2015 Delhi elections as the chief ministerial candidate, her political relevance is questionable. Which is why her most recent posting as the Lt. Governor of Puducherry is a curious one. On one hand it signals a certain political relevance – that Bedi is considered a leader in the BJP. On the other hand, it remains rather symbolic – a pity posting to temporarily appease Bedi, but more importantly, an apology from the BJP’s senior leadership to the party at large. As someone who worked extensively on the Delhi election campaign, I find considerable evidence to support the latter rationale. Here’s why.
For one, Bedi is a bureaucrat, not a political leader. Her stature stems from the work she championed or accomplished as a high-ranking bureaucrat within government institutions. Her leadership style is authoritarian, in the sense that her subordinates obey her because they have no choice. If anything, Bedi flourishes within a strict hierarchy. While this enabled her to excel as an IPS officer, her inability to connect with people was a major contributor to her epic failure from the safest BJP assembly constituency during the 2015 Delhi elections. Krishna Nagar had voted the BJP to power for the last 25 years.
In politics, the team that gets you elected is not on your payroll, nor do they have to listen to you. If you cannot make nice with party workers, then your political career will be short lived.
It is no secret that Amit Shah and Narendra Modi’s heavy-handed miscalculations in the Delhi elections angered the Delhi BJP unit. The BJP won all of 3 seats out of 70. Bedi’s posting to Puducherry, a small coastal town that does not enjoy the national spotlight, seems to be in part to atone for their mistakes.
If Shah or Modi held Bedi in high regard, they would have appointed her to be the governor of a major, politically relevant state (e.g. UP or Bihar), rather than banish her to an obscure Union Territory. Moreover, this posting makes it more likely that Bedi will no longer be a part of the media cycle.
Both Congress and the BJP are guilty of politically abusing appointments to governorships, a constitutional role that should be occupied by someone apolitical. The best-known example is Delhi, where the BJP allegedly exploits the office of the Lt. Governor to exert political influence and subvert the AAP government’s efforts. The most recent example of this is the proposed app-based premium bus service, which was red-flagged by the Lt. Governor. The more publicised incidents include the hijacking of the ACB, the DDCA row, and the JNU case.
Will Bedi be a political pawn in Puducherry? The timing of the appointment suggests so. In fact, the appointment came three days after the Congress-DMK alliance won 17 seats in the 30-member Puducherry Assembly.
Here’s another point to consider: the office of the Lt. Governor of Puducherry had been vacant for two years and was being administered by the Lt. Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Island (Lt. Gen. A. K. Singh). This fact further brings into question the timing of Bedi’s appointment. After all, why was there a sudden need to fill this position?
A Governor is the representative of the President of India to the State. Similar to the President, the Governor is supposed to ensure that the state government is upholding the Constitution. Unfortunately, governorships have become a place for the unelectable, but politically connected, to live out their remaining years. Sheila Dikshit’s appointment as Governor of Kerala – albeit short-lived – is telling.
Although there was no imminent possibility of Bedi re-joining forces with AAP, reporters have continuously asked Kejriwal whether he would ever welcome prominent dissenters such as Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, or Kiran Bedi, back into the fold, to which he has said AAP’s doors are always open. Well, packing Bedi off to Puducherry, as far away from the AAP stronghold as is geographically possible, certainly seems to close this door – at least for now.