Just four days before his superannuation, the Modi government has given a plum assignment to Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as Police Commissioner of New Delhi, with a year’s extension in service. The 1984-batch officer was scheduled to superannuate on July 31.
On July 27, he was appointed Police Commissioner and also granted deputation from the Gujarat cadre to the Union Territory cadre to enable him to be the boss of police in the country’s capital, where the force reports to the Union Ministry of Home.
For Mr. Asthana, the appointment order came as a vindication of his “competence” just two months after he was unexpectedly knocked out of the race to be CBI Director when the Chief Justice of India (CJI), in a high-powered committee meeting with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, cited six months’ residual service for those to be considered for the post.
The CJI’s insistence on the Supreme Court-laid rule of six months remainder service rendered Mr. Asthana and another top contender Y.C. Modi ineligible to head the country’s most high-profile federal agency that investigates graft and political cases.
To head the CBI was apparently a dream job for Mr. Asthana, who had fairly long stints with the agency at different levels, including as its officiating director for a few months and then special director in 2018, when he was unceremoniously removed after a major fight with his boss Alok Verma when the agency hit the headlines for its internal war that divided the top agency into two camps.
Both Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana were shunted out overnight as the government acted on the order of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner after CBI Director Mr. Verma booked Mr. Asthana in an alleged bribery case, in which he was cleared later on.
Subsequently, Mr. Asthana was made Director General of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, not the kind of job a high-profile police officer like him would enjoy. In August 2020, he was appointed as Director General of Border Security Force (BSF), a paramilitary force manning the country’s borders.
As BSF chief, he also had additional charge as Director General of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), which cracked down on Bollywood personalities for alleged use of drugs after the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput.
Prior to his Central deputation, Mr. Asthana held prime posts in Gujarat, including as Police Commissioner of Vadodara and Surat, and also headed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the Godhra train burning case, in which 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were charred to death by a Muslim mob near the Godhra railway station.
It was his investigation in the Godhra case that earned him proximity to the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, whose trust Mr. Asthana enjoys even today.
“He may have become a bit controversial due to the CBI fight but, otherwise, Mr Asthana is a highly competent police officer who knows his job and has a knack of getting it,” a senior IPS officer, who knows him for over two decades, said.
He is known to be a tough taskmaster who keeps his juniors and subordinates on their toes, with complete control over things.
Besides his competence, Mr. Asthana is also known for his integrity, though his name had figured in the Sandesara brothers’ diaries but eventually he was cleared. Also, in the CBI bribery case, he was exonerated of all charges.