Policemen of yore

Print edition : April 13, 2002
Three officers to look up to.

TO be able to hang up your boots while still in good physical shape from any exacting profession is a gift from God not given to many. When you retire from a complex calling such as policing, with your sanity and composure still intact, the joy is all the greater. Leading an active life, being busier than ever before, retirement has not yet sunk into me. However much I would like to submit myself to a surgery of sorts, so that I can begin a new career, I cannot easily divest myself of thoughts about my three decades in the Indian Police, a phase in my life that I am inclined to regard as a mixed baggage, a garland of many happy memories and a few not-so-happy ones.

The immediate provocation for this foray into the past is all the calumny that has been poured on the police in the aftermath of Gujarat. Undoubtedly, the police in that State have failed the Mahatma and have done everything that the Father of the Nation would have discountenanced sternly. Apart from Gujarat, many recent happenings in other parts of the country as well should cause anguish to both past and present police leaders. Most painful were the television pictures of how the Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone was roughed up a few days ago by an excited fundamentalist, right under the nose of a posse of policemen who seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. They did not lift a finger to intervene in an ugly situation that definitely attracted the provisions of the Indian Penal Code. One police officer in the area has the audacity to say that no complaint has yet been received from Mr. Lone - implying that that alone would trigger a police investigation. I do not any longer believe that we are yet to reach the nadir of policing.

Many such aberrations cannot, however, by any manner or means, bring ignominy to the whole Indian Police or to the men and women who once adorned its ranks or who are still in it giving an excellent account of themselves against great odds. But, for the present I am going to talk only about the past, on leaders who had a lasting influence on my career, some who ungrudgingly guided me despite the raw deal that they had themselves received from the powers-that-be and the consequent professional disappointments they had suffered.

C.V. Narasimhan - often mistaken for that equally distinguished civilian who rose to dizzying heights in the United Nations hierarchy - comes foremost to my mind. CVN, as he is fondly called, would have lent glory to any profession that he chose. After a spell of teaching mathematics in a college of great repute, he walked into the Indian Police Service, standing first in the first competitive examination held for the successor to the Indian Police (IP). He started life in the composite Madras State that covered most of present Andhra Pradesh.

My first interaction with him was in 1965 when he was the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Trichy Range, and I was still a probationary Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). He was stern and austere, but never overawed you. He would provoke you into thinking on many basic issues of the field. He expected you to respond, not in a cursory or superficial manner, but in a way that befitted an officer worthy of an All India Service. And he was proud of the traditions of the Service, which he upheld at considerable cost to himself. If you reacted to his questions instinctively and mindlessly, you were certain to be hauled over the coals! I remember many of my sweeping and thoughtless remarks, typical of the callow years in the force, inviting his gentle admonition, which went a long way to straighten me out of some misconceived notions of superiority.

I do not think he ever raised his voice against a subordinate. But he was exacting in his expectations of very high standards of policing and personal rectitude. His level of rapport with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kamaraj was incredible, especially when you remember that the two came from diametrically opposite milieus. I presume they learnt abundantly from each other - CVN the humanity and robust common sense of Kamaraj, and the latter, CVN's phenomenal knowledge of how the police worked and should work at the grassroots - and shared qualities of heart and a friendship that was unique in many respects.

It is perhaps among the greatest of ironies that CVN was denied the distinction of heading the Tamil Nadu Police, a responsibility that he would have discharged with the utmost dignity, objectivity and professional competence. Several reasons are cited for this Himalayan administrative impropriety; none of which have convinced anyone who has worked under him.

The silver lining was his appointment as Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1977. But before he could complete a year in that coveted position, the controversy surrounding Indira Gandhi's arrest and subsequent release on bail raised the hackles of some in the Janata government and he was eased out. (It is such acts of caprice and crass victimisation that drove the Supreme Court, exactly 20 years later, to prescribe a mandatory two-year term for the CBI Director. Otherwise, the longevity of a Director was, on an average, less than a year, making him almost a factotum of the government.) CVN was assigned to what was considered an inconsequential position, namely, member-secretary of the newly constituted National Police Commission (NPC). Perhaps this was the best thing that could have happened to the Indian Police.

The Commission, consisting of several distinguished personalities, including its Chairman Dharam Vira, ate out of his hands. The brilliantly written eight reports of the NPC are a monument for which CVN will forever be remembered. It is an entirely different matter that several recommendations of the Commission are gathering dust because of an unabashed lack of political will which cuts across party lines.

In sync with the fundamental axiom of the Bhagavad Gita, CVN is still trudging along, pushing his 70s with great dignity, this time in the cause of school education. I wish I could emulate him. He says he has plans for me! The only grievance I have with CVN is that he has not chosen to write his memoirs. He did write a serial for a leading Tamil weekly on the important cases that he had handled, and this was also brought out later as a book. But this is definitely not a substitute for a full-fledged account of his career and his thoughts on past and current policing. Out of reverence and respect for him, I have never asked him why he opted for such mystical reticence. He has perhaps strong grounds for shying away from this exercise, which we know can sometimes lead to unwitting self-glorification.

IN the same league as CVN was his dear friend and batch mate, N. Krishnaswami. NK, the father of police computerisation for the whole nation, was an outstanding student of science from Delhi University. This academic background sustained him right through his career and was actually an aid to whatever he took up in the direction of professionalising the force. With a razor-sharp intellect, he brought clear and objective thinking to many a problem. Ruthless in his adherence to the law and the canons of righteous conduct, he was possibly mistaken very often for being a rigid personality who would give no quarter even to his best friends. Although he was picked to serve the prestigious Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), where he quickly made a mark, a personal adverse circumstance led to the painful decision to revert to the State police cadre. This did not deter him from striving in pursuit of excellence.

What CVN did for the NPC, NK did for the Tamil Nadu Police Commission in the early 1970s. A remarkable piece of administrative literature, the Commission's report evoked a favourable response from the State government. After it was accepted, believe it or not, NK wrote in his own hand, the entire Government Order running to several pages, implementing the recommendations. That was his style! Never complained about lack of facilities or a lack of praise for his hard and original work. Like CVN, NK also did not receive the rewards he richly deserved. When he realised that intrigues within the department had kept him out of a meaningful job that he was entitled to by virtue of both merit and seniority, he decided to call it a day. Some of us were distressed over this totally unexpected turn of events. We, however, chose not to intervene because he had a strong mind and he knew what was good for him. That was a sad day for the Tamil Nadu Police which had forged ahead of others in the areas of communications and computers, thanks to the imaginative moves of NK, who was ever amazingly current in his knowledge of developments in international policing.

NK, born in the same year as CVN, has displayed no less energy after his innings with the government. Apart from training the younger generation in computers, he has set up the Vidya Viruksha, an organisation devoted to preserving online, valuable ancient manuscripts. What is more heartening is the organisation's devotion to the task of enabling disabled persons to use the computer with the same facility as many of us do. Can there be anything more ennobling than this?

I have chosen to write at length on two policemen who may be irrelevant to many now in the ranks who may or may not know him. CVN and NK constantly remind me of those famous lines of Tennyson:

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

My sole objective therefore is to persuade the younger generation in the police to understand that at the end of the day this is the most important axiom that can sustain us. CVN and NK tell us how necessary it is to uphold values and suffer for it, rather than buckle under pressure in expectation of an ephemeral reward; and that there is a life after policing, where we can live in dignity and derive immense solace working for the betterment of the community.

CVN and NK could serve as beacon lights if only the present crop of officers cared to read their lives. Perhaps most significant is their message of how it is possible to rid ourselves of rancour and bitterness in our careers even against great injustice and disappointments. Such a quality is undoubtedly required if the police have to be a service and not a mere means to self-aggrandisement.

THIS article will be incomplete if I do not finally salute a policeman who belonged to a different genre altogether - Aditya Nadar, who unfortunately is no more with us. He was my first Superintendent of Police when I began my field training. Not blue-blooded like CVN and NK who came directly into the IPS, Aditya Nadar rose from the ranks to be promoted to it. This made no earthly difference to him. With an enormous level of common sense and self-confidence, backed by the capacity for industry, he was a lion in his own way. He had an unbelievable appetite for work that kept his officers on their toes all the time.

In a sense, he was an uncut diamond, with a mercurial temper. He was sometimes hard on his trainees. But this was out of a concern that they should pick up the rudiments of policing very early in their careers. Rural policing was close to his heart, probably because he had an agrarian background. Perfunctory visits to villages by young IPS officers invariably got his goat. No excuses on grounds of a lack of a place to stay, which many trainees used to trot with ease, ever passed muster. I remember sleeping on the roadside, open to the skies, on occasion in villages, if only out of sheer fright for the old man.

An acute sense of humour enlivened Aditya Nadar's routine meetings. I still recall how, in 'collusion' with a colleague of mine, he chose to play a prank on me, which later became the talking point of the police in Thanjavur. His affection for the families of policemen, especially his younger officers, was incredible. I cannot forget how my wife, sitting smugly in the company of Mrs. Nadar, a venerable old lady, in his office at his residence, enjoyed the sight of my being ticked off by Nadar right under her nose, just for an innocuous lapse. This was Nadar's inimitable style that strengthened the bond within the police and lent a personal touch to whatever he did. Possibly this will be regarded as unorthodox in the present times. But the merits of that style are difficult to spurn if we are to build to a cohesive and efficient police force.

I know I can be scoffed at for going sentimental about what some may now look upon as trivia. But I rest contented having said my song, one that may not exactly be music to all!

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