Patna: Perhaps Gupteshwar Pandey, director general of police in Bihar, likes the limelight. After all, he’s seen on TV news channels almost every other day, expounding on all sorts of issues on all sorts of panels. Recently, for instance, he spoke continuously for three-and-a-half-minutes during a Zee News debate on the encounter killing of Uttar Pradesh gangster Vikas Dubey.
Pandey may be unique: very few DGPs from Hindi-speaking states find themselves on national news channels as often as he does. He is so media-friendly that chief minister Nitish Kumar once had to warn him about it. “If the media makes someone a hero, his downfall is imminent. That’s why I believe in work and don’t want publicity,” the CM had said.
The Bihar DGP is active on social media too. He has 7.77 lakh followers on Facebook and when he joined Twitter this April, his follower count went from zero to 77,800 in months.
He has always been in the headlines, but his proactive response to Bihar-born Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide in Mumbai now actually dominates the news.
Sushant’s father, K.K. Singh, had filed a complaint on July 25 at Rajiv Nagar police station in Patna against Rhea Chakraborty, allegedly a former girlfriend of Sushant’s. Acting fast on the complaint, Pandey sent officers of the Bihar police to Mumbai to investigate. As one of the Bihar police officers was quarantined after arrival in Mumbai, the others played a game of hide and seek with the Mumbai police to avoid quarantine and carry out their investigation. Pandey made a sharp statement against the Mumbai police and later, the Bihar government recommended a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into Sushant’s case.
But Pandey still appears to be hyperactive in the investigation of Sushant’s death. A few days ago, he spoke about the actor’s death for about 20 minutes on a Republic TV panel, referring to Sushant as ‘Bihar ka beta‘ (son of Bihar) and speaking of how the actor’s death has become a matter of sentiment for the people of the state. This speech did not sound as though it was made by a serving IPS officer. It sounded as though it had been made by a politician.
Pandey’s focus on Sushant’s death has puzzled the people of Bihar, considering that a few cases which Pandey had investigated within the state itself still remain unsolved yet. For instance, the Navaruna abduction case in Muzaffarpur, where Pandey was posted at the time, led to his interrogation by the CBI, but there is still no closure.
Then there have been several bizarre twists and turns in his career, many of which point to certain political allegiances. So who is Gupteshwar Pandey really?
The case of Navaruna’s abduction
On September 18, 2012, Navaruna, the 12-year-old daughter of Atulya Chakraborty, a fourth generation member of a Bengali family residing in Muzaffarpur since the mid-19th century, mysteriously went missing.
Initially, the matter was investigated by the local police. Later the senior superintendent of police (SSP), the deputy inspector general of police (DIG) and the then additional director general of police (ADG) Gupteshwar Pandey, led the investigation.
But there wasn’t much progress. On December 3, the same year, Pandey recommended a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probe and the case was later handed to the CBI. On March 26, 2013, six months after the abduction case, Pandey was removed from the post of ADG and transferred to the Bihar State Sports Authority (Patna) as its director general. On February 14, 2014, the CBI lodged a fresh first information report (FIR) and began investigating the case. The same year, Pandey and two other police officers were questioned by the CBI in the case.
Navaruna’s father Atulya Chakraborty told The Wire over the phone: “We had asked the CBI several times to interrogate Gupteshwar Pandey and other police officers. But the CBI investigating officer told us that since Pandey is an IPS officer, they needed solid evidence to interrogate him; they could not interrogate him without evidence. Later, the CBI did question Pandey. This means the CBI had evidence against him, or else how could they interrogate him?”
According to Chakraborty, Navaruna’s abduction had sinister undertones. “The land mafia wanted to occupy my house and land. Those people may have kidnapped my daughter. Gupteshwar Pandey was in connivance with the land mafia,” alleged Chakraborty.
When Chakraborty first made his suspicion public, Pandey refuted the claim. He said that one Hemant Kumar and another man, Abhishek Ranjan, had falsely implicated him in the Navaruna case because he had arrested Hemant in a harassment case.
But Chakraborty told The Wire: “Abhishek Ranjan is the man who had filed the public interest litigation in the Supreme Court over the abduction case, but I don’t know any Hemant.”
Hemant was arrested in December 2012. According to a media report, when he was arrested, the police had paraded him in town with placards on his chest that read: ‘I am habitual eve-teaser.’ He was produced in court and received bail.
An RTI activist who claims to have been in contact with DGP Gupteshwar Pandey for a long time told The Wire on condition of anonymity: “Pandeyji and Hemant knew each other very well when Pandeyji was posted in Muzaffarpur. In 2010, there was a seminar in Muzaffarpur on the RTI and Pandeyji himself introduced Hemant to other guests.”
When Hemant was paraded in town with the placard around his neck, RTI activist Shiv Prakash Rai had spoken out against the act with a statement in the media.
He told The Wire: “Gupteshwar Pandey told me that I had given my statement in favour of Hemant without knowing the facts. I told him the placard itself identified Hemant as an RTI activist, so parading an accused with placards that said he was a habitual eve-teaser was not good. That was why I made the statement.”
The case of the VRS that might not have happened
Pandey has strong political ambitions. In 2009, when the Lok Sabha elections were to be held, he is said to have wanted to contest the elections from Buxar on a BJP ticket. To do this, he retired on March 14, 2009, under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS), since no serving member of any of the Indian administrative services can contest elections. At that time, he was inspector general (security) in the district police headquarters.
At the last moment, however, the BJP fielded Lalmuni Chaubey, who had been a member of parliament from Buxar five times and was considered close to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In response to this, Pandey had said: “I have entered mainstream politics, so I cannot move back now, but I have to plan anew.”
In the 2009 general election, the BJP lost the Buxar seat: Jagadanand Singh won from Buxar on a Rashtriya Janata Dal ticket. Now Pandey decided to return to the IPS and applied to the Bihar government for reinstatement. His application was accepted immediately and in November 2009, he returned to service. In administrative circles, this move was called the “rarest of rare cases” because at that time, only the President of India had the right to appoint IPS officers to posts like inspector general. Given that Pandey had retired under VRS, it should have been nearly impossible for him to return to the post he had left.
But according to a report in the Deccan Herald, “Pandey’s VRS application was accepted by the Bihar government but was not sent to the Central government, which is the appointing authority of officers like IAS and IPS.” Since the state government did not officially clarify why it had not forwarded Pandey’s application to the Centre though it had had nine months to do so, it led to speculation that the BJP-JD (U)-led National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar favours him.
Even in appearance, Pandey seems to want to fit a BJP template. In spite of his designation of DGP, he flaunts his religious identity, wearing a tilak and tiki (small ponytail) and writing opinion pieces for a Buxar-based news portal where he propagates Sanatan Dharma. He is also a trustee of the Shri Garibnath Temple Trust Committee of Muzaffarpur, a post he has held since 2006, and the Hariharnath temple of Sonpur.
On August 5, 2020, when the foundation stone for the Ram temple in Ayodhya was laid, Gupteshwar Pandey posted an image of Ram on his Facebook page. Earlier, he had released a video for Eid ul Zuha, appealing to Muslims to do nothing to threaten ‘qaumi ekta’ (unity of the country).
The case of his appointment as DGP
Last January, Nitish Kumar appointed Pandey as Bihar’s DGP after the retirement of K.S. Dwivedi. Sources say there were three more senior police officers in the running for the post, but the CM selected Pandey, the junior-most of them all.
He was apparently given the post because he was said to have done a good job in the Bihar government’s liquor prohibition drive, one of chief minister Nitish Kumar’s pet projects. But the fact is that the liquor business still flourishes in Bihar. Even a BJP MP, Ramkripal Yadav, had pointed out last year that liquor was being sold in every neighbourhood that had a police station.
नशामुक्ति दिवस की मंगल कामना…
— Ips Gupteshwar Pandey (@IPSGupteshwar) June 26, 2019
Pandey was also said to be competent at controlling crime. But data proves this claim wrong. According to the Bihar police’s own website, the crime graph in the state is high.
In the first five months of this year alone, there were 1,186 murders, 2,934 cases of kidnapping and 524 rape cases. A total of 99,558 cognisable offences were committed between January and May 2020.
Last December, when a local Journalist asked the DGP about the rising graph of crime, Pandey scolded the journalist, asking whether he was still a trainee or had not yet developed the skill of asking questions.
Now, with the Bihar assembly elections approaching, it is rumoured that Pandey may enter the polls. His tenure as DGP ends in February 2021, but the grapevine says that he may resign before that and contest on either a JD (U) or BJP ticket.
The Wire has sent Pandey an email with questions about his career and plans for the future. Pandey has yet to respond, but when he does, this story will be updated.