Person of the week

Good Cop for a Bad City

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After a fortnight of deliberations within the Congress-NCP-led Maharashtra government, 57-year-old Rakesh Maria was appointed Mumbai’s Police Commissioner. It is understood that a non-political cop like Maria—a basketball and football loving resident of Bandra—would be an inconvenience to the ruling parties this election season, and so his appointment speaks volumes of his reputation. If the city’s police force has celebrated the move, it is for this reason: he has been given the top post for his abilities and not any cosiness with politicians.

Maria is a man in a hurry. With elections round the corner and the police doubly engaged, maintaining law-and-order on Mumbai’s streets may be a challenge. His first priority will be to rejuvenate the force to work in favour of people at large—instead of political leaders who have links with shady characters. As the big chief, Maria would have to tackle corruption within the police. In his favour is his enviable ability to solve cases of crime in times of peaking cynicism. Unlike many of his predecessors, he commands the respect of his men without having to demand it. “Maria sir is a hard taskmaster, but we know it is for the best as he has no political masters,” says an encounter specialist who has worked closely with him. “He is an officer who has earned his stripes.”

As someone who likes to lead from the front, one of Maria’s abiding regrets is not being able to do this when Mumbai was under the attack of Pakistani terrorists on 26 November 2008. Though he was chief of the force’s Crime Branch then, he was asked by his boss to direct operations from the police headquarters, a decision he fought against. Later, Maria’s Punjabi roots were to prove helpful in the interrogation of the event’s lone captured terrorist, Ajmal Kasab.

Maria is also credited with helping solve the cricket betting scandal involving South African captain Hansie Cronje. Before that, in 1993, within days of the Mumbai serial blasts, it was Maria who helped unlock the identity of the conspirators. The case, particularly Maria’s sleuthing, was used as material for Anurag Kashyap’s film Black Friday, in which actor Kay Kay Menon played the cop’s character. “What I like about the man is that he is silently confident and does not boast about it,” says Menon. “Since I had never met him, my job became more challenging as it needed perfect portrayal. One way I saw Rakesh Maria was as a man with strong intuition.”

On the flip side, detractors within the force accuse Maria of ‘hijacking’ cases, a charge his supporters rubbish, saying that this story was floated after Maria ordered all cases of every Mumbai police station routed to his Crime Branch office. This may or may not have denied other cops credit, but it certainly had them on their toes.

It was inevitable that Maria would earn the ire of some corrupt politicians. He has faced some heat from BJP and Shiv Sena politicians. His tracking down of terrorists has also had some Muslim outfits dubbing him ‘anti- Muslim’. But with state Home Minister RR Patil steadfastly behind him, Maria had something of a free hand. It is interesting now to hear politicians express confidence in Maria’s capabilities.

“He is a good officer,” according to Vinod Tawade, BJP’s leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council, “Crime will be contained in Mumbai.”