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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Memoir: A cop like Maria!

“The journey of a Bandra boy from wearing chappals and playing cricket in the streets to becoming an IPS officer and police commissioner of Mumbai is like a dream come true”.
These words spoken by Rakesh Maria on the day he took charge as police chief of Mumbai are still echoing in my ears.  That was one of the most joyous moment for Maria and that time nobody had a thought that his dream will culminate in such an distasteful manner. I am personally saddened by the treatment meted out to Maria by Maharashtra government. An officer who has given so much to the city didn’t deserve such conduct at the zenith of his glorious career.

Most of crime journalists who have seen Maria for years have certain observations to make and events to remember. I too have a few. When I commenced my career as a tv journo in 1999, Rakesh Maria was chief of railway police, which was equivalent to the rank of additional commissioner in Mumbai police. During past 16 years, I have been able to see his professional ups and downs as well as got an idea of human qualities in Maria which were distinct from others in the world of cops.

Elephantine Memory:
Comparing Rakesh Maria with Albert Einstein will be absurd and inappropriate, but there is something very exceptional in Maria’s brain which makes him a man with superb memory. During press conferences as railway police chief, Maria used to provide details of 4 to 5 different criminal cases which were detected by his force. Each case had 2 to 3 accused persons who were paraded before the media. Rakesh Maria never looked even once towards his diary while describing details of each accused like when did which accused committed his first crime, how many times he was arrested in the past, who were his family members, how many residences he had changed etc. All such details of accused paraded in the press conferences were on his tip of tongue. He could also tell the details of over 150 accused arrested in 1993 Mumbai bombing case without referring to the papers.

Trusting People: His Weakness.
Whether Rakesh Maria was a DCP or the top cop of Mumbai police, he was always very approachable, gentle, soft spoken and friendly while dealing with his subordinates, journalists and public. Although, ironical it may sound for a sharp and intelligent cop like Rakesh Maria, he was quick to trust people and often took them on their face value. This turned out to be one of his weaknesses and landed him in trouble few times. I remember two instances here.

While award winning author Suketu Mehta was writing his famous book “Maximum City: Mumbai”, he approached Rakesh Maria through his relative’s reference. He told Maria that he was writing a book on Mumbai and also needed inputs on Mumbai underworld from him. What Suketu didn’t tell Maria was that he was making Maria himself a character in his book. Maria trusted him and showered him with ample information. He even allowed Suketu access to interrogation of criminals and shared his views on the dirty politics prevalent in Maharashtra police and nexus between IPS officers and politicians. Suketu was often invited at his home by Maria. When the book was published, there was a whole big chapter on Rakesh Maria and what Maria thought about the police force he was serving in. Only thing what Suketu did was that he changed Maria’s name in the book as Ajay Lal. However, he gave so many details about the personality and career of Rakesh Maria that it became obvious that Ajay Lal was none else other than Rakesh Maria. Once, at ATS office when I asked Maria whether he was in touch with Suketu Mehta his face turned red with anger- “I trusted that @#$% and he cheated me.”

In 2000, when Rakesh Maria was railway police chief, he met a journalist from a web portal on a friend’s request. The journalist told Maria that he was working on a story focussing on the nexus between underworld and cricketers. Maria agreed to help him with relevant information on the condition that he will not be quoted. Trusting the journalist, Maria spoke freely to him and explained how an ex captain of Indian cricket team was linked with Dawood Ibrahim’s gang. While talking to that journo, Maria didn’t realise that he was recording everything in a camera fitted in his handbag which was placed right in front of Maria. The web portal got a big scoop and publicised the sting operation claiming that a senior IPS officer has revealed cricket-underworld nexus. Maria was in a big trouble after that.

Criminal Investigation: A Passion.
Lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani & few others have questioned why Mumbai police chief Rakesh Maria is personally investigating Sheena Bora murder case? Well those who know Rakesh Maria since years will not be surprised. Criminal investigation has been his passion. Apart from cracking 1993 blast case as a DCP, he personally investigated few railway crime cases as railway police chief. When he was crime branch chief he personally investigated Esther Anuhaya murder case & Neeraj Grover murder case.
His ex boss MN Singh confirms that Maria is an enthusiast of criminal investigations & gets personally involved in complicated cases.

Response to embarrassing situations :
In Novemeber 2009 then police commissioner D.Sivanandhan and Rakesh Maria who was joint commissioner of crime branch launched my book on 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
The venue was heritage hall of Wilson College and one of the guests invited on stage was Smitha Salaskar, widow of late inspector Vijay Salaskar who died fighting with terrorists during the attack. When she began her speech, everybody present in the hall was taken aback. Mrs.Salaskar targeted Maria and used very harsh and bitter words against him. Smitha Salaskar’s anger against Maria was due to her belief that Maria who was handling the control room was unable to send rescue team quickly to the spot where Salaskar was lying injured for several minutes after being hit by bullets. Any other officer of his rank would have left the gathering in anger after hearing such words addressed to him, but Maria maintained his calm. When it was Maria's turn to speak, he began with words – “I can understand emotions of Mrs.Salaskar…under those circumstances we did our best…” with this he moved on to focus his speech on the content of my book.
Rakesh Maria, Dr.Sirwaiya, Jitendra Dixit, D.Sivanandhan, Smitha Salaskar, Prem Shukla.

I felt guilty that in my function Maria had to face such an embarrassing situation. I should have not invited both of them on stage together. I called Rakesh Maria  at around 9pm that night – “I am sorry that you had to face this in today’s function.” He responded calmly – “Don’t worry Jitendra. She has lost her husband. We must understand her emotions. Such things happen and we must not be affected by them.”

Last Tuesday when Rakesh Maria was transferred from Mumbai Police Commissioner’s post and promoted as D.G of Homeguards, I alongwith few other journalists met him at his new office in the evening. He was visibly angry and upset at the sudden turn of events in his life. However, while leaving he brought a smile on his face and told us – “Today I will surprise my wife by reaching home at 6pm and will tell her that I have become a good boy.”

There are several other incidents which give an idea of Rakesh Maria’s professional abilities and his persona, but all those cant be covered in this brief blog. In Rakesh Maria I see a dedicated police officer with excellent detective skills and a down to earth human being. Truly, there is no other cop like Maria.

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