An officer and a gentleman

Print edition : July 14, 2006

Frederick Victor Arul. His knowledge of hardcore policing was immense. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Frederick Victor Arul's firmness was not politically expedient, but he had the courage to withstand its consequences.

IT is difficult to reconcile oneself to the loss of a colleague however senior he may be. This is especially so in an organised corps like the Indian Police Service (IPS), where life-long relations are established between like-minded officers. I am yet to recover from the passing away of E.L. Stracey, a former DGP of Tamil Nadu, a few months ago. Hailing from Bangalore, he studied at Loyola College, Madras and thereafter joined the Indian Police (IP), the predecessor of IPS, to serve with great distinction, before migrating to Canberra in 1980 after his retirement. A wonderful friend to the younger elements in the Service, he had a high sense of ethics and concern for political neutrality of the bureaucracy.

Another blow now strikes officers like me who began their career in the early 1960s. On June 15, the sudden demise of Frederick Victor Arul, former IGP (Inspector General of Police) of Tamil Nadu and former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) leaves a void that is hard to fill. Here is one instance where I do not have to resort to a perfunctory eulogy of a man who has departed. Genuine feelings pour out of my heart, although I was not thought to be a great favourite of Arul in police circles. However, to put the record straight, he had few `favourites', if that odd expression was used to refer to individuals who were close to a leader and therefore gained unfair advantage at the expense of others. In reality, Arul was inaccessible in the police hierarchy to those who sought undue favours. But if I remember right, he heard representations from the lower rungs, especially when he came to know that there had been unfairness in personnel matters.

The life of Arul should inspire many in the force all over India. Born in 1917 in Burma, Arul studied at Loyola College and Madras Christian College, before joining the IP. Beginning his career in 1941 in the Andhra segment of the then Composite Madras State, he made a mark straight away with his physical fitness, ability to do long hours of strenuous fieldwork and his high standards of personal conduct. Seldom did he shy away from taking control of a potentially explosive situation and remained in charge till the scene returned to normal. Later, as the head of the State Police, he never took kindly to any officer who showed even the slightest signs of shirking responsibility. Naturally, he rose to dizzy heights of power. As Commissioner of Police of Madras and Deputy Inspector-General (DIG), Criminal Investigation Department (CID), he became an icon of sorts by virtue of his bravery and dedication to work.

He was a tough law and order man who believed that firearms were not an ornamental adjunct of the police equipment and had to be used to defuse a serious situation. His firm handling of the labour strike at the Madras Harbour in 1956, and the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 testify to this faith in the lawful use of firearms to put down threats to public order. Such firmness was not politically expedient, but he had the courage to withstand its consequences.

Two complex investigations are still associated with Arul. The first was into the New York Cotton Betting racket of the mid-1950s. This was a novel form of widespread gambling by an influential city gang that amassed a lot of wealth and passed on a part of it to individuals in the City Police as `protection money'. The wager was on the opening and concluding figures of cotton prices at the New York market, which were carried each day by newspapers in Madras. Arul had received several complaints from reliable quarters and knew that the scandal had corrupted his ranks. He conducted a thorough investigation through dependable officers and brought to book many notorious characters who were all convicted in court. The racket died a natural death.

The second case that brought fame to Arul was the Coimbatore 100-Rupee counterfeiting conspiracy. This was as DIG CID in late 1959 when the police received complaints of large-scale circulation of false currency notes. Assiduous investigation through reliable officers and private contacts raised suspicion about the involvement of G. Krishnan, a prominent textile mill owner in Coimbatore. The latter had run into serious financial difficulties when he quickly bought up several mills and had to modernise the machinery. He zeroed in on printing of currency as one way of solving his requirement for hard cash. Arul had to proceed with great caution as Krishnan was influential and any loophole in the evidence marshalled against him would, apart from going to his benefit, bring down the image of the police.

Arul's personal enquiries in the field convinced him of Krishnan's guilt. Thereafter, Krishnan was taken into custody and questioned. The whole gang was nabbed and prosecuted successfully. The Police Training College Museum still has exhibits of the counterfeit notes that can stun you for their resemblance to genuine currency. Interestingly, in both the episodes of cotton betting and counterfeiting of currency, the public speculated that Arul had gone in disguise to important centres in the State to ensure that the investigation was on the right track. Knowing how meticulous he was in whatever he did, I do not discount the possibility. I never quizzed Arul on this, even during the hour-long TV interview I did for Doordarshan in the 1980s.

The phenomenal reputation that Arul built for himself catapulted him to the position of Director of the CBI at the national capital in 1968. He had a satisfying three-year tenure during which he had the distinction of being elected to the Interpol Executive as its Vice-President. This was the first time an Indian occupied the seat. Apart from bringing glory to India through his extraordinary knowledge of complicated criminal investigation - something the world body needed, Arul won many hearts for his urbane manners and amazing knowledge of international policing.

A few days after his death, thanks to my friend Sundaralingam ("Sunda"), who was a Drugs Expert with Interpol until a few years ago, I got a copy of the of tribute paid by Raymond Kendall, Interpol's Secretary-General when Arul was its Vice-President. Kendall, who held office for a record 15 years, said: "With the passing of Arul, we are witnessing a generation change and with it, no doubt, a change in police methodology, which now has at its disposal technological means that did not exist in the early days of our respective careers. He will be missed both for his professionalism and his loyal friendship." Kendall also recalled the ivory piece (Gita Upadesam) that Arul presented to the Interpol when it was functioning near Paris. Terrorists attacked the building in 1986. Everything around the model, including the glass case, was destroyed, but not the chariot.

I came to know Arul more than four decades ago. On a sunny January morning in 1965, I stepped into the Police Headquarters, officially (possibly officiously) known as Chief Office, to call on the IGP, after completing the basic IPS training at the Central Police Training College, Mount Abu. I had butterflies in my stomach. This was made worse as I walked into the lion's den, accompanied by my batchmates Davaram and Hariharane. Yes, it was a lion that we had to face in the precious few minutes we got from a stern and austere figure who surveyed us for a while, got to know who we were and dismissed us with a firmness and abruptness that conveyed the message in no uncertain terms: We had to struggle hard and match the Chief's standards, if at all we were to survive in the Force. Struggle we did, with more than one moment of discomfiture and embarrassment, when we were ticked off for our follies and foibles.

Arul was a quick judge of men. He found in Davaram, material that was close to what he was looking for, to do some tough policing in the field. He sized me up admirably well to find that I was not cut out for the hurly-burly of district policing, and promptly sent me to Delhi to work for the Intelligence Bureau. Davaram prospered to lead the Tamil Nadu Police, as well as Arul himself did. Fate decreed that I follow in Arul's illustrious footsteps thirty years later, to continue in a humble way, the good work he had done to raise the CBI's image as a world-class investigating agency.

During the few years I spent under his immediate tutelage in the Tamil Nadu Police, Arul rose enormously in my esteem and admiration. He never indulged in populist measures. He spoke little, but when he did speak, he spoke with clarity and authority. His knowledge of hardcore policing was immense, and he disseminated this knowledge through his well-thought-out circulars down the line. I can sum up his life thus:

His life was gentle, and the elements/ So mixed in him that Nature might stand up/ And say to all the world, `this was a man!'

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