MEDIA DARLING: Kiran Bedi could do well do admit her mistakes.

As the holier-than-thou debate rages on in the Indian media, most of the critiques and harangues have centred around Kisan Baburao ‘Anna’ Hazare – some defending him outright, others castigating him in equal measure. Of the members of the so-called Team Anna, the one who has probably been written about the least is Kiran Bedi, the original media darling.

And that she has always been, since she shot to fame for having ordered then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s vehicle to be towed away for a parking violation. Those were not the days of 24/7 television, but she became a regular on state-run Doordarshan too. Everyone loved this gutsy, upright police officer. The media raved about her, and she remained in the news, irrespective of whether she did anything or not. She came across as someone incorruptible.

The public image of Kiran Bedi remains as spotless even now. So, when today she talks of corruption, hers is perceived to be an authoritative voice on the issue. But if corruption is to be seen as an abuse of power, Bedi herself would have to stand guilty.

Bedi would often ruffle feathers when she was posted in Delhi. Usually, these were either that of politicians or senior officers. But in Mizoram she crossed the line – it were the people of the state who took to the streets in anger. The widespread protests in 1992 were over her daughter’s admission to Delh’s Lady Hardinge College for an MBBS course through the Mizoram quota. Aizawl had not seen so many people on the roads since 1986 when the Mizo National Front (MNF) was welcome backed by Mizos. That had been a celebration, this was a cause célèbre.

The upright police officer, posted in Mizoram as Deputy Inspector General (Range), thought discretion was certainly the better part of valour – and fled. This she did in the wee hours of one day, and without even informing her superiors. Her daughter’s admission, of course, was not scuttled. It’s a different matter altogether that the daughter never completed her MBBS studies, and instead flew over to the United States for a journalism course.

What Bedi did in Mizoram was exploit a loophole in the law. Northeast quotas exist essentially to ensure that at least some youngsters from the region get the chance to study in good educational institutions elsewhere in the country. These quotas are often seen to be a mired in controversies and corruption – Bedi made the best use of it. And never apologised or admitted.

Select justifications came, but from Bedi apologists. The ruse offered was that since she was posted in Mizoram at the time, this made her daughter eligible for an admission by reservation. What they never told us was that this was precisely the official flaw in the law that Bedi used to her own personal advantage. There is something called the letter of the law, and there is the spirit of the law. Bedi was someone who cocked a snook at the latter.

The ruckus in Aizawl did not make headlines in mainland India – it was by and large related to single columns and briefs in newspapers. Bedi’s image remained untarnished.

The Mizoram incident, however, is not one blemish in an otherwise squeaky clean career. There are many other skeletons in Bedi’s closet. The media, as a rule of the thumb, does not dig dirt about its own darlings. But uncomfortable questions over her self-professed “outstanding record” were posed by some journalists after she quit from the services in 2007.

Karan Thapar invited her to his television show. Bedi initially accepted, subsequently reconfirmed, and then pulled out without a convincing explanation. Thapar later published the questions he wanted to ask in his column:

  1. To begin with, you’ve received neither the Indian Police Medal for Meritorious Service nor the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service. Given that these are routinely awarded after completing a certain number of years of service, isn’t your not getting them proof that your record is neither meritorious nor distinguished?
  2. Secondly, is it true that on 4 separate occasions you failed to complete your tenure and at least twice left your post without permission which is tantamount to desertion of duty? (She didn’t complete her tenure as Superintendent of Police in Goa, DIG (Range) in Mizoram, Inspector General (Prisons) Tihar Jail and Inspector General of Police in Chandigarh. The posts that she left without permission were Goa, in 1983, and Mizoram, in 1992. Speaking to the Sunday Observer on the 27th September, 1992, she said of Mizoram: “I left without asking”. Her letter of 25th January,1984 to the Inspector General of Police in Goa, Mr Rajendra Mohan, establishes that she left on leave that had not been sanctioned.)
  3. Let’s examine your conduct in some of the critical posts you’ve held. Is it not a fact that as DIG (Range) in Mizoram the Governor issued a formal note of displeasure against you for leaking information to the press?
  4. Is it true that when President Venkatraman visited Mizoram the Governor became aware of your plans to disrupt the visit and informed the Intelligence Bureau that you could not be trusted with classified information and security? Again, this is said to be part of your service record.
  5. Now let’s come to Chandigarh, where you were Inspector General for 41 days. Is it not true that the Adviser to the Administrator wrote to the Home Ministry to ask for your removal on the grounds that your presence in Chandigarh was “not in public interest”? (In her authorised biography ‘I Dare!’, its claimed Mrs Bedi asked to be posted out of the city. However, UNI, on the 18th May 1999 claims: “In a sudden move, the Union Home Ministry today transferred Chandigarh Inspector General of Police Kiran Bedi with immediate effect.”)
  6. You were accused of instigating junior police officers to defy the administration because you disagreed with certain suspension orders issued at the time. The press said you were “sowing seeds of rebellion”.
  7. In 1988 you were a central figure during the lawyers strike of that year. Even your authorized biography admits that the Wadhwa Commission, which investigated the matter, “found fault with Kiran”. The press has claimed he called you “a chronic liar”.
  8. I put it to you, Mrs Bedi, that far from “an outstanding record”, your service record is good reason why you don’t deserve to be Police Commissioner?
  9. In fact, if your service record was so good, wouldn’t the Lt. Governor, Tejinder Khanna, whose Special Secretary you were during his first tenure, have insisted on your appointment as Police Comssioner? The fact that he didn’t shows that he too thinks you are not fit for the job.
  10. Finally, you’ve said Dadwal’s appointment was wrong not just because your merit was overlooked but also your seniority. But if you don’t deserve the job on merit should you get it because of seniority?

Pankaj Vohra too took Bedi to task. Among other things, he wrote about this curious incident of the scuffle between lawyers and policemen. Vohra wrote in Hindustan Times:

As DCP North in 1988, she got into a major problem with Tis Hazari lawyers. A committee headed by Justice DP Wadhwa, then a sitting Judge of the Delhi High Court, passed severe strictures against her. The report virtually established that Bedi had hatched a conspiracy along with a Congress corporator and also used some criminals so that they, with a mob, could attack the lawyers demanding her ouster. Justice Wadhwa, who later became a Supreme Court Judge, also questioned her credentials and raised doubts about her integrity.

The report was later presented in Parliament with an assurance to the lawyers who went on a 99-day strike that she will never be posted in the capital in any important position. Justice Wadhwa’s report also has observations which show how her proximity with the then Home Minister, Buta Singh, helped bail her out. Curiously, the report is not traceable in the Home Ministry anymore. Bedi, after that, was never allowed to hold a field posting and was never made additional or joint commissioner of either the Range or Traffic.

So, the report went missing, eh? Sounds suspiciously like the same kind of corruption that the Hazare-led agitationists are talking about.

Sure, no one is perfect. And people should indeed get a second chance to redeem themselves. But this always comes with a pre-condition: admit your sins first, and then atone for them. Kiran Bedi has not done any of that. To exonerate Bedi for her transgressions would be nothing short of self-indulgence. Meanwhile, you can choose to remember what you want about her.