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How ex-IPS Bhaskar Rao, Chennai-born ‘Bengaluru boy’, aims to boost AAP’s Karnataka push

Bengaluru: When he opted for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) in September 2021, IPS officer Bhaskar Rao was considering entering politics and was weighing his options.

He had two choices — either the Congress, currently in the Opposition, or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a party that was by then the principal contender to the Congress in Punjab and was looking to expand its presence nationally.

By Monday, 4 April, two days after he retired, the 1990-batch officer from the Karnataka cadre had made his choice — the former additional director general of police (ADGP) joined the AAP.

Although Rao has formally joined mainstream politics only now, the buzz around his possible foray into the political spectrum has been around for more than a year: In June 2020, Karnataka’s Congress circles were alive with rumours about the possibility of him contesting the 2023 assembly elections from south Bengaluru.

Before he made his choice, he was courted not only by the Congress but also the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rao told ThePrint.

“I have been in Karnataka my whole life and have friends across political parties. Many from the Congress and the BJP have asked me to join their parties,” he said.

What was it about the AAP that attracted him?

“I find that the AAP is the party with the least baggage,” Rao told The Print.

Also read: Karnataka, you’ve got a problem: Why BJP’s divisive politics can ruin Bengaluru’s unicorn party

What Rao brings to AAP

Riding on its stunning victory in Punjab last month, the AAP is now looking to spread its reach beyond to states like Himachal, Gujarat, and Karnataka. That means it needs well-connected and popular local faces, like Bhaskar Rao.

“He (Rao) has served across the state and has proved his commitment towards the public,” Prithvi Reddy, the state convenor for the AAP, told The Print.

Rao’s induction into the party is just the beginning, the leader said. Karnataka has 224 assembly seats, and the AAP is looking to field as many people as possible in next year’s elections.

“There is already a very successful Delhi model. We need local, trusted people here who can emulate it,” Reddy said.

Rao described himself as a true-blue Bengalurean. “I have lived and grown up in Basavanagudi, I studied in Jayanagar, all my friends are in Malleswaram, and I have a lot of family in Padmanabhanagar,” he said.

Born in Chennai, Rao studied in various schools across multiple cities. The 57-year-old is an alumnus of National College in Jayanagar, and holds a Master’s Degree from Bengaluru University. An NCC cadet during his student days, Rao is a recipient of the UN Medal for services rendered in international peacekeeping in a warzone.

He served as the commissioner of police for Bengaluru between August 2019 and 2020, handpicked by the then chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa to replace Alok Kumar, who was appointed by the previous Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy and who held office for 47 days.

Although Rao spent most of his life in south Bengaluru and Malleswaram, he does not want to be tied to any place just yet.

“It would be premature for me to anchor anywhere yet. All of Karnataka trusts me,” he said.

Rao is a cycling enthusiast and often speaks of his participation in cyclathons with pleasure.

Although he opted for VRS — a scheme that allows a person to retire before their official retirement date — he was discharged from service only last week because Karnakata’s BJP government under Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was trying to convince him to take back his application. Rao would have completed his full tenure in three years.

Some in the Congress look at Bhaskar Rao joining the AAP as a loss to their party. A Congress officebearer admitted that Rao wanted to contest from Basavanagudi in south Bengaluru, but the party did not agree.

Basavanagudi is a BJP stronghold and has a sizeable Brahmin population — Rao’s own community.

“It is a loss for the Congress party. He could have proved to be an asset in Bengaluru,” the Congress leader told The Print.

Speaking about the AAP, Rao said it “does not have a high-command culture that attempts to control every micro activity”. “The AAP does not indulge in communal politics,” he added.

The Congress’s loss is the AAP’s gain: the party is relatively obscure in Karnataka with only a handful of wins in local body elections. The party now hopes to cash in on Rao’s popularity.

“After (AAP’s) Punjab win, people across the country see the party as a ray of hope and symbol of change,” Reddy said. “It is important for our growth in different states that local, trusted, loved people take responsibility for the party. Bhaskar Rao is one such person. He led the police force commendably during Covid-19 when the government was almost non-existent.”

Rao’s role in enforcing the Covid lockdown in 2020 received both criticism and praise. Within the department, however, he is seen as a no-punishment leader.

“Rao is ‘Dildaar’. He does not believe in punishment-oriented performance but in innovation and transformation. It is very rare to come across a leader who gives a free hand to subordinates in our department,” M.N. Anucheth, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru Central, said.

Phone-tapping controversy 

Rao’s career has not been without controversy. In August 2019, a leaked phone conversation — purportedly between Rao and a power broker — sparked a row over illegal phone tapping between the ruling BJP and Janata Dal (Secular), a party that was accused of tapping some 300 phone lines while it was in power under H.D. Kumaraswamy.

The phone conversation was purportedly about Rao lobbying for the post of Bengaluru commissioner.

The alleged power broker in the purported conversation turned out to be a suspect in a Ponzi scam.

The leaked phone conversation led to a showdown between Rao and his predecessor Alok Kumar: Rao accused Kumar of illegally tapping his phone and trying to defame him.

The state government, by then under Yediyurappa, handed over investigations into the case to the CBI.

After the CBI filed its ‘B’ report, saying there was no evidence to carry on investigating, Rao challenged it, leading a special CBI court to reject the report and order a reinvestigation.

Rao told ThePrint that he wanted to move on from the controversy.

“I don’t want to carry on with police department politics. I believe in forgive and forget,” Rao said after he joined the AAP.

Controversy dogged him even while he was the commissioner of police for Bengaluru. Former deputy chief minister C.N. Ashwathnarayana, now the Minister for Higher Education, Information Technology and Biotechnology, and Science & Technology, accused him of receiving kickbacks from e-commerce companies during the lockdown in 2020.

An emotional Rao walked out of the meeting midway despite Yediyurappa’s attempts to pacify him.

Such allegations, however, appear not to bother the AAP — a party rooted in the anti-graft movement that swept the country in 2011.

Said Prithvi Reddy: “He was in service till last week. If the government had any evidence of corruption against him, nothing stopped them from taking action. That alone is enough to suggest that such allegations are nothing more than political attacks”.

Also read: Siddaramaiah alleges Modi govt used Pegasus to topple Karnataka’s Cong-JD(S) govt in 2019

Civil servants in power

Karnataka is no stranger to civil servants leaving service midway to venture into politics, with some taking the leap post-retirement.

K Annamalai, the current BJP state president in Tamil Nadu, was a Karnataka-cadre IPS officer before he quit service in 2019.

Karnataka’s Agriculture Minister B.C. Patil is a former police officer-turned-actor who took up politics. Former Lok Sabha member H.T. Sangliana is perhaps the most famous IPS-officer-turned-politician in the state.

“Bureaucrats study and work hard to become IAS and IPS officers and are generally seen as go-getters,” Roopa D, IGP and MD of Karnataka Handicrafts Development Corporation (KHDC) told The Print.

“When officers see politicians wielding enormous power and see that they are able to get things done at the drop of a hat by whatever means possible, a bureaucrat often thinks why they, with their experience in governance, could not do the same.”

These are individual choices, Roopa said. “We cannot begrudge them that,” she added.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also read: BJP slams Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw for ‘growing divide’ in Karnataka remark, she has ‘faith in govt’

Source: The Print

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