THE PEOPLE’S COMMIS SIONER
Rakesh Maria, one of Mumbai Police’s most loved officers, beats seniors to the top job
Have you read Sherlock Holmes?” asks ACP Sanjay Kadam of the Anti Terrorism Squad, an old associate of Mumbai’s new Commissioner of Police ( CP) Rakesh Maria. “That is him.”
In 1994, CBI detained one Dr Jalis Ansari. Unable to crack the man who would come to be known as “Dr Bomb of Bombay”, the agency called a young crime branch officer who was earning a name for sharpness. DCP Rakesh Maria arrived and within half an hour, he had Ansari confess to over 60 blasts at gurdwaras and police stations between 1989 and 1994. And contrary to Suketu Mehta’s portrayal in Maximum City, Maria did not lay a hand on him. “You can’t break hardened criminals with a fist. Maria is Holmes. Even as the criminal talks of his first step, he has already seen his tenth,” Kadam explains.
Maria, a fan of Holmes and a voracious reader, has mastered the moves of many fictional criminals, from Ra’s al Ghul to James Bond supervillains; from authors Jeffrey Archer to Ed McBain. A policeman of the street, he built his network by making himself accessible; every constable, it is said, has his number and can call him even at 2 in the morning. In fact, he sometimes leaves his cell phone with his staff. He is known for playing volleyball with constables in the yard. Maria has cultivated an aura “of quiet strength” that Anupam Kher says he adopted for his character in A Wednesday. “In Maria’s presence, you believe all will be well,” says Kher.
Maria subscribes to the belief that police must have an approachable, non-threatening yet dominant pres-
ence on the street. His focus areas, he announced after taking over as police commissioner on February 15—he has called his appointment a dream-cometrue for a boy who played football barefoot in Bandra—would be on crime on the street and safety of women. He has got to work in earnest, abolishing visiting hours and declaring police available at all times.
No wonder roses keep arriving at CP’S office in Crawford Market, a bouquet every three minutes, some of them 48 stems thick with the Government of India emblem on the card, others humble gerberas, to fete his appointment. Each is scanned by a constable before it is let through. “CP sahab” is not in his office but the queue outside is no less than when he holds “durbar”. As he walks in, his six-feet-plus frame uncharacteristically burdened by the full regalia of the uniform, his face is flushed from attending back-to-back meetings in Mantralaya, dealing with the controversies over his appointment. His predecessor Satyapal Singh, who has joined BJP, is not around for the handover. Javed Ahmed and Vijay Kamble, the two senior officers he superseded, are threatening to resign. He has not even had time to sit down with his officers for a primary briefing.
In Mumbai, the commissioner of police is the king, says police historian Deepak Rao. “The common man may not know who is the chief minister but everyone knows who the CP is. During a street brawl, no one says, ‘I will go to a minister’ but ‘I will go to the CP’.” It has been so since the time of Charles Forjett, the first police commissioner in 1857. In 2014, the post couldn’t have gone to a more-loved policeman than the 1981batch IPS officer. His batchmate Meeran Borwankar, ADG ( Prisons), Maharashtra, is all praise. “Rakesh, as all of us know, is an ace investigator and interrogator. He is very passionate about his job. Police officers and staff love him. He leads from the front, he always has.”
It is a reputation that Maria has built since his days as DCP (Traffic) in the 1990s. In 1993, he was assigned to the serial blasts case by CP A.S. Samra—he got the case as much for his reputation as a sharp investigator as for the fact that the bombs had been planted in abandoned vehicles. He demonstrated his sharpness and eidetic memory later, when, as commissioner of Railways, he listed names of 18 accused in the serial blasts case at a press conference without referring to a scrap of paper.
Maria can always be expected to exceed his brief. He got Sanjay Dutt to confess his crimes to his disbelieving father Sunil Dutt; he pronounced starlet Maria Susairaj a suspect even as she came in to request a probe into the disappearance of her lover Neeraj Grover; he introduced psychological profiling for officers holding key posts; he cracked blasts cases while designated to handle traffic, and as Anti Terrorism Squad chief, he probed the urban interest in largely rural Naxalism.
Born Rakesh Maurya into a family that owns Kala Niketan Productions, the 58-year-old is an aficionado of Hindustani classical as well as western country music and has a reggae collection that would be the envy of any hipster. He is an avid basketball player and also represents Mumbai Police in state football tournaments. Maria is father to sons Kunal and Krish and husband to Preeti, a homemaker.
Maria is politically neutral and that, sources say, is why he was chosen over Javed Ahmed and Vijay Kamble, who were Congress’s choices. But he has his detractors. Suketu Mehta portrayed him as “the tormentor” Ajay Lal in Maximum City; IB claimed that Mirza Himayat Baig was wrongly held by his crime branch in German Bakery blasts’ case; and Vinita Kamte blamed him for the death of her husband ACP Ashok Kamte in the 26/11 attack. But his loyalists in the force stand by him. His interrogation methods, they insist, are “natural for anyone in his position in the crime branch”. On Kamte’s charge, they defend him as being a victim of then CP Hasan Gafoor’s lack of organisation and it’s whispered that the final Pradhan Committee report exonerates him of blame. The facts nothwithstanding, the legend of Rakesh Maria has growth larger than his self. And for his supporters, all that matters is that the CP is in his chair and all is well.
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