Tale of a top cop

Mohamed Thaver

Former Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria (Express Archives)

The autobiographies of people connected to important events fill in the blanks of history, trying to provide a more faithful picture than was available earlier. Former Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria’s memoir provides first-hand information on the inside story of the cases he has been associated with — the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, the Gateway of India blast, the 26/11 terror attacks, the hanging of Yakub Memon and the Sheena Bora murder case. In over 600 pages and 35 chapters, his account opens a door into the supercop’s eventful life. Also, for the first time, Maria speaks out about the allegations against him — the book’s title reflects this.

While the cases are all interesting, the format is a little limiting, as the reader expects more information on his life or even other aspects of his work. For example, political challenges faced in the course of investigations would have made fascinating reading. Julio Ribeiro, the other Mumbai top cop, delved into the problem of political interference in his autobiography Bullet for Bullet, though without naming names. Maria’s book, too, could have gone into the pressures that the force faces from several quarters.

Public figures sometimes become self-indulgent, tediously detailing their childhood and early career. Thankfully, Maria quickly covers his childhood as a “Bandra boy” and his probationary days, and the book springs to life as he begins investigating the 1993 blasts, which cut short his career as a “cop with traffic handling expertise” — now scarcely imaginable — for which he had trained in Japan. At a time when crime shows are all the rage, he offers a sneak peak into actual police procedure and the formulation of investigation strategies.

For example, he talks about the challenges of arresting Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt from Mumbai airport in April 1993, after firearms were discovered in his house. He talks about the strategy to “get him (Sanjay Dutt) out of the aura and protective umbrella of his high-powered and respected family… I had hand-picked even the constables who would accompany Sanjay.” He told them: “Please don’t be star-struck! I depend on you. You have to be like stone statues.”

They picked up Dutt from the aerobridge as soon as his flight landed, without allowing him to meet his family. On the drive from the airport to police headquarters, “No one spoke a word to Sanjay Dutt during the entire journey. Sanjay repeatedly kept enquiring as to where we were taking him… The constables sat totally expressionless, without even turning their faces to look at Sanjay. Like stone statues!” Maria’s interrogation of Dutt is fascinating, too.

While the book is a page turner, perhaps Maria got the better of his editor. While the investigations are interesting, long-winded descriptions of Indian festivals and explanations of mythology, aimed at the Western reader, impede the flow. The chapter on 26/11 goes into so much detail that it becomes redundant. Maria has scrupulously named all junior officers who worked with him, and praised them. But the praise he bestows on police work at the end of each chapter is repetitive, if not self-congratulatory. In contrast, the section where Maria talks to Ajmal Kasab in Punjabi and takes the high-security inmate to see the corpses of his fellow terrorists to show that they had “not gone to heaven” in the middle of the night, and what follows, is the kind of story that reporters’ dreams are made of.
Maria then offers his side of the story about three major allegations against him: a 2014 photo in a cafe in London, where he met former IPL boss Lalit Modi, who was then facing an ED probe; allegations by Vinita Kamte — wife of IPS officer Ashok Kamte, slain during the 26/11 attacks — that Maria, who was manning the control room, did not send enough manpower to the spot where Kamte was killed; and his controversial promotion and transfer from the post of Mumbai police commissioner in the Sheena Bora murder case.

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Let me say it now by Rakesh Maria

Maria’s most sensational disclosure concerns that case. He was then Mumbai police commissioner, and he writes that his fellow IPS officer Deven Bharti, who oversaw the probe along with him, kept him in the dark about knowing Indrani and Peter Mukerjea — both eventually arrested for Bora’s murder — even though the two senior cops travelled in the same car every day to the Khar police station to interrogate the accused. During his interrogation, Peter said that Bharti had been informed that Bora was missing in 2012, while her remains were found in 2015. Maria reveals his hurt at being shunted out, and the “government flip-flops” regarding his role in the case.

These days, autobiographies are being written by public figures midway through their careers, but Maria chose to hang up his peaked cap before putting pen to paper. Considering the importance of the cases he dealt with, it was the right choice.