Literature on the Indian Police is a mixed bag of some extraordinarily good writing and some trash that is eminently forgettable. Belonging undoubtedly to the former genre is the book under review, woven out of entries in the diaries of an outstanding police leader. My regret is that I never got to know K.F. Rustamji, who headed the Madhya Pradesh Police and later became the founder-Director General of the Border Security Force, an organisation that is the pride of the Ind ian Police for the high professional standards it has set and the zeal with which it has guarded our borders. It was not a little due to his dynamism and foresight that the BSF is regarded today as the best of the Central Police Organisations (CPOs) that work under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Coming as it did in the wake of Pakistani incursions into the Rann of Cutch, and the subsequent war with Pakistan, the BSF fitted admirably into the scheme of things as a second line of defence. That the BSF received, in its infant days, such mature leadership as was provided by Rustamji proved a great advantage to it.
Drawn into the Indian Police (earlier known as the Imperial Police) in 1938, Rustamji spent his early days in the Madhya Pradesh Police. His account of life in the districts, with all its trials and tribulations, makes interesting reading. Contrary to the popular impression in those days, the English supervisor was not always fair or honest, and he was known to promoting intrigues through his favourites. Rustamji was at the receiving end of the stick. Undeterred by such tactics, he plodded to build up a formidable reputation for professionalism, a reputation that swiftly carried him up the hierarchy.
Post-Independence, he joined the Intelligence Bureau in 1952 and immediately thereafter the Prime Minister’s Office as Jawaharlal Nehru’s Chief Security Officer, a recognition for his abilities and professional stature. The next six years were remarkable for the bond the two men, so different from each other, were to establish. A lesser man than Rustamji would have exploited the relationship to his own advantage. For him, however, this was sheer dedicated work that the Almighty had ordained for him when he joined the IP. It is not surprising that Rustamji is better known for his association with Nehru than for the wonderful transformation he was to bring about in the Madhya Pradesh Police and his personal efforts to shape the BSF. His subsequent tenure as the IGP of M.P. was eventful, especially for the dexterous planning that was needed for neutralising the dacoits in the Chambal Valley.
One irritant here was the parallel movement run by Vinobha Bhave to persuade the bandits to surrender, something that worked at cross purposes with what the police were trying to do. Rustamji respected the Gandhian leader, but this did not stop him from taking the firm position that Vinobha’s movement was demoralising the police. A summons from the Central government in 1965 to raise a new para-military force, later to be christened the BSF, was a due reward for his services at the State level.
‘Liberation of Bangla Desh’ is an informative chapter on how the BSF performed in the momentous days of 1971, when it played a stellar role in the war between India and Pakistan which broke out as a reaction to the events that led to the break-up of Pakistan. Honours came Rustamji’s way unsought, even after retirement. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the highest civilian honour that a policeman has got till now. Membership of the National Police Commission (1977) provided yet another opportunity for him to work towards reforming the Indian Police, a cause to which he was dedicated right through his distinguished career. Not many will know that he was the man behind India’s first Public Interest Litigation (PIL). This was an offshoot of a two-part article he wrote for a leading daily on the conditions of under-trial prisoners in a Bihar jail, which he visited during his assignment with the NPC. The country should be grateful to Rustamji for this signal service alone.
This is not an autobiography in the traditional sense. Rustomji left behind 3,500 pages of the diaries he maintained between 1938 and 1970. To have produced a cogent account of all the endeavours of an all-time great policeman from out of those diaries is a remarkable feat. P.V. Rajgopal, again a policeman from M.P., who went on to head the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, deserves all kudos for some painstaking and imaginative editing. This monumental exercise should not, however, go in vain. I would like every police officer, whatever his rank, to read Rustamji’s life and learn some valuable lessons on how to shape the police into an honest, credible, and people-friendly force. Emulating him is difficult, but every police officer in the country should at least try. We need any number of Rustamjis to stem the rot that has set in, something that has affected the police image, almost beyond repair.
THE BRITISH, THE BANDITS AND THE BORDERMEN — From the Diaries and Articles of K.F. Rustamji: Edited by P.V. Rajgopal; Wisdom Tree, 4779/23, Ansari Road, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 495.