The Officer & Gentleman

AHMAD JAVED AHMAD JAVED is a tough, nice, no-nonsense policeman, discovers MARK MANUEL. Salman Khan's was just one of his many cases.

ONE thing that the Salman Khan case has done, is that it has made Mumbai more aware of Ahmad Javed, the city's joint commissioner of police for law and order. You recall, he conducted a swift but thorough inquiry into the incident and submitted a report to the government. Then he quietly stepped back into the shadows and continued with his job of policing the city. He is that kind of officer. A new, and different, breed of policeman. He is young and dynamic, suave and sociable, efficient and tough. And hand-picked for the job, no doubt, by Police Commissioner M. N. Singh himself. I remember Mr. Singh coming to the Crime Branch like this, nine years ago, and taking charge of the serial blasts case. At the end of this year, when Mr. Singh retires, Mumbai will be short of one damn good policeman. Fortunately, among the young blood there is Ahmad Javed.

The morning after Dassera last week, I met Javed for a cup of coffee at his office in the Mumbai Police Commissionerate. He had got home from the night before's bandobast only at 4.30 a.m., but here he was at 10.15 o'clock, sunny and cheerful, freshly-shaved and clear-eyed, looking boyish in his starched cotton uniform. I have many friends in the Mumbai police and many officers whom I admire. Javed fits in both these categories. The week before at a function organised by this newspaper to launch the latest Busybee book, I was besieged by a number of eminent citizens who wanted to meet or be introduced to Javed. Now, pleasantries exchanged, he was ordering coffee for us. "I have run out of cappuccino," he was saying, "and my constable does not know how to make Turkish coffee. So I shall offer you decaff. Is that fine?" It was.

He usually gets by with six or seven hours of sleep, he said, explaining how he spent the night before supervising Dassera celebrations all over Mumbai. "There were Durga visarjans with mandals trickling down to the seafronts, effigies of Ravan were burnt at several venues over Mumbai, and there was the Shiv Sena's mela at Shivaji Park. It was like Ganpati, but the components were lesser," Javed told me, calling for a tin of English Hob-Nob biscuits to go with our coffee. "And though I put in only four hours of sleep after that, I'm not groggy. I had to miss my morning exercise, however." The top brass of the Mumbai police, I am sorry to say, are a sleep-deprived lot. The press gives them no peace. Our crime reporters call them late at night and early in the morning for leads to murders, thefts, shootouts, extortions, suicides, rasta-rokhos, accidents, rapes...

Javed is not one of those pot-bellied police officers you find learning yoga and practising the Art of Living at the Police Club. Nor does he, like M. N. Singh and D. Sivanandhan, the Joint Director of CBI for Western India, take the air at Worli Seaface and Marine Drive in the morning. Javed works out in the privacy of his home. He does cardio on an exercycle because he cannot jog on his bad knee. And he does light weights, crunches, some yoga asanas to cool down. He's been doing yoga for two decades in some form or another. Half an hour of this every morning, and the joint commissioner is ready to face a regular 12-hour day in his office. And it is a 12-hour day, Sundays included. "I am in favour of the force getting fit," Javed told me. "A fit man in a uniform is a wonderful sight, I have always believed. He gives a positive image of the police to the public and his own efficiency levels go up."

He comes from Lucknow, this Ahmad Javed, and because his father was in the administrative services, the family travelled all over, before settling down in Delhi. Javed studied in the Delhi Public School and he did college in St. Stephan's, "the best in India", specialising in history. The work situation and avenues open 25 years ago were vastly different from today. And with a "government service" ambience at home, it was natural that Javed studied and wrote the UPSC exam when he was 21 and "fresh out of college". "That was it," he explained, "no having to go anywhere, no having to beg, so to say, or try and get a job." He selected the Indian Police Service and was allotted the Maharashtra cadre by the government of India. "After training, my first posting was as Assistant Superintendent of Police in Khemgaon, Buldhana district. Then Jalna, Ahmednagar, Nanded, Nashik, Solapur, and in between, Mumbai too, for a short stint at the Director General of Police's office, where I looked after law and order."

He was police commissioner of Solapur between 1997 and 2000. I mention this because Solapur, as you know, witnessed some terrible communal riots earlier this month. Javed, fortunately, has happy memories of the city. "You've got to keep things under tight control," he said to me, "and don't let anything illegal, or that which can create a problem for you in a trouble situation, get the better of you. I've learnt to reach out to the public in an effective way: be firm in your area of work, but also be transparent and honest. So when you have to take difficult decisions, people understand, they care for you and come to your aid. I got phenomenal support from the citizens of Solapur. In fact, I still get calls from them. But this is not about being populist, it is about doing what is acceptable and demanded. Policing is difficult in our times, plus you must keep in view our continued levels of stress and strain. Something or the other is happening all the time."

It is true, he joined the Mumbai Police Commissionerate in February, and Javed has been riding a roller-coaster of events that have challenged him constantly since then and kept him on his toes. There was the Godhra incident in Gujarat that continued simmering and threatened to spill over in Maharashtra for quite some time, a Bharat bandh, the Ayodhya shilanyas deadline in March, BMC elections in Mumbai, Ganeshotsav, the Akshardham incident in Gandhinagar, the September 11 anniversary all around the world, Dassera, plus there are visits to Mumbai almost every day of VVIPs and ministers for whom bandobast has to be organised. "The last eight-ten months have hardly been a lean period for me," he complained good-naturedly. He is in charge of law and order in Mumbai which includes everything concerning police stations and outside, except organised crime.

"And after all this, now there is Salman Khan," I reminded him, leading onto the big and last bit of my interview. "Tell me about him," I urged. "Did you interrogate him here in this office? Was he made to sit on the floor? Did you employ third degree?" Javed laughed. "No," he said, "I made him stand over there." And he pointed to a space at the back of his office. I imagined Salman standing there like a naughty schoolboy, at the back of the class! "The preponderance of evidence showed he had knowledge that what he was doing could most likely end up in a situation like what he found himself in," Javed said, sounding like a policeman. "There is an element of what should I say, not flippancy, that's too mild, I can't find the correct word, but the tendency to take this casually. But more than the case was the hype! It diverted the focus from many other things that were happening. But he cooperated with us, told us what we wanted to know, we had to only verify what he said." Meaning, no third degree!

His role, according to Javed, was to inquire into the entire episode, and submit a report to the proper channels. "I hope something positive comes out of this," Javed said, "like a relook at our rules and laws which have come down as a British colonial legacy and must be brought in time with the requirements of the 21st century." "But why were you chosen to head this investigation," I asked. "I can't say, it was the government's decision," he replied. (Meanwhile, as I write this, Salman Khan's bail application comes up for hearing today in the sessions court.) "What's better," I remember asking Javed, "police custody or judicial?" And smiling, Joint Commissioner of Police (Law & Order) Ahmad Javed had said to me, "From Salman's point of view, the best thing would be to get bailed out!" I left him at that, declining another cup of decaff coffee, wondering whether Salman Khan had acted like a hero before this nice but tough policeman. And wishing I had been there to see Bollywood's macho star standing in a corner, punished already.