Differences with Raj Bhavan, Hostage drama led to SP Vaid’s exit as J&K Police Chief

A clash between Jammu & Kashmir’s top cop and Raj Bhawan led to the removal of the state’s director general of police, SP Vaid, late on Thursday, multiple officials familiar with the matter said.

The differences started soon after the state was placed under Governor’s Rule, a day after the BJP pulled out of the Mehbooba Mufti government on June 19.

“There were regular differences between Vaid and advisors to the governor,” the officials said on condition of anonymity. “In each security review meeting, questions were asked regarding the deteriorating ground situation, particularly in south Kashmir.”

The hands-on approach of Raj Bhawan and advisor Vijay Kumar in particular led to what one of the officials described as “major differences”. Several shortcomings were laid squarely at Vaid’s door: from the increasing number of youth joining militancy despite the killings and arrest of terrorists, to the increase in number of policemen being killed by militants. As many as 33 policemen have been killed in the state this year alone.

“I don’t want to say anything about the differences,” Vaid told HT. Asked why he had been removed, he said, “I did what I was supposed to do. Probably they were not happy with my performance.”

Before matters came to a head last week in tat-for-tat abductions by the police and the militants, Vaid and Kumar are said to have been locked in a tussle over transfers and postings of policemen. “Raj Bhawan thought he was defying orders and he thought he was guarding his turf,’’ a second official said. Over the last few months, lists of transfers of police officials were being drafted in Raj Bhawan, HT has learnt.

The channelling of operational funds — the DGP’s prerogative — was also being influenced by advisor Kumar. “You cannot cut the administrative powers of the leader of a force,’’ said a former DGP of the state on condition of anonymity. According to him, this “humiliated” the top cop in the eyes of his own force. Kumar declined to comment.

Speculation regarding Vaid’s removal has been doing the rounds for the last two months but the tipping point was when the police was forced to swap relatives of militants to secure the release of the family members of their own kin on August 31.

After militants abducted 12 relatives of policemen in south Kashmir, the governor’s office intervened and ordered the police to release Assadullah Naikoo, father of Hizbul Mujahideen operational commander, Riyaz Naikoo, from Pulwama. It was only after the police released Naikoo’s father that the Hizbul Mujahideen freed abducted relatives.

Senior officials in the national security establishment saw the swap as a morale booster for the militants. The timing, too, was crucial: the swap happened on the same day that the government announced plans for holding local body and panchayat elections. “The swap cost Vaid his job and Delhi signed off on his transfer,’’ said a home ministry official.

Interestingly, Vaid received full public support from the home ministry soon after the abduction fiasco. The ministry on Tuesday denied the reports that it was unhappy with the J&K police. “On more than one occasion, MHA has commended the work done by J&K police and the valiant sacrifices made by the men and officers of J&K police. There is no question of any dissatisfaction,” the MHA spokesman stated then.

Vaid wasn’t the only casualty. On September 3, the state’s Additional Director General of CIP Abdul Gani Mir was replaced by B Srinivas.

It did not help Vaid that the BJP, which was instrumental in getting him appointed as DGP in December 2016, did not resist his removal. The party which, in 2016, wanted a DGP from Jammu (they won all their seats from there), began to see him as a liability after he and his force took the lead in investigating the horrific rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua.

Many BJP leaders believed that he was more loyal to the PDP rather than the BJP. After the state came under Governor’s Rule, many BJP leaders who had access to the minister of state in the PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh — who is also an MP from the Udhampur/Kathua Lok Sabha seat — started lobbying for Vaid’s removal on the grounds that J&K needs a proactive DGP and even suggested certain names as possible replacements.

A senior official in Raj Bhawan told HT on condition of anonymity that Vaid was being viewed as “non-compliant and too much of a Jammu man”. “The state needs a dynamic leader to deal with the challenging ground situation ahead of the polls, first announced by the Prime Minister in his Independence Day address,’’ he added.

The government announced Dilbagh Singh as Vaid’s successor, as an interim measure, but has now approached the Supreme Court, which has previously laid down a criterion on appointments of DGPs. Under the process, the appointment must be made after consulting the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which sends a panel of three officers from the pool of eligible officers to the state government.

The state government told the top court that since the J&K police cannot remain headless, the government gave the charge to Singh till a regular appointment is made. The matter will heard on Monday now.

“Though the order appointing Singh said he has been given charge till regular arrangements are made, it is quite likely that he will continue with the job,” said a third official.

Meanwhile, Vaid has been relegated as transport commissioner. “It is prerogative of the government to decide who will be the police chief. The employee cannot question the employer,” said Vaid.