In Uttar Pradesh, it hardly matters whether the Chief Minister is Mayawati or Mulayam Singh Yadav. They are all the same for a police officer like Jasvir Singh. He is 40, incorruptible, single, diabetic and has suffered two facial-paralysis attacks. Another, and possibly a lesser man, would have made his peace with his conscience and crossed over. Not Jasvir. He continues undeterred and unafraid. It’s a little over the top, his zeal, but every bit real.
After 15 years in service he takes home Rs 17,000 a month. He drives a Bolero, an official car that he has received after years of going to work on a motorcycle — with his bodyguard riding pillion. Not quite what the recruitment ad promised.
“I am happy,” he says, “except for the fact that I have an old mother to look after.” All the land owned by his family in Punjab is lost, most of it mortgaged to pay lawyers engaged to fight his cases against the government. Jasvir has seen too much and done too much to actually care much about anything. He has a look about him that screams: don’t try to impress me, don’t try to surprise me and keep your honesty spiel to yourself.
His honesty nearly got him killed, nearly got him dismissed and it nearly left him maimed for life. Talk to him about his exploits and you realise he is rather vain about his honesty. And why not?
How many have actually lived a life worth a Bollywood potboiler? Jasvir has. There is enough here for not one film but an entire series.
Jasvir met his Gabbar after almost 15 years of working in the UP Police, most of it having been quite eventful. When he took up his posting at Pratapgarh, he was as much a name as the local don who was a terror.
The don travelled in a convoy of cars — filmy style — with guns sticking out of the windows. No one ever dared stop them, not even at police checkposts and barricades. This immensely bothered the young SP.
Jasvir had a dedicated team of about 50 policemen — whom he had personally trained in karate. He himself is a brown belt. It was time for ‘the boys’ to show their boss it hadn’t all been in vain. A sub-inspector and a homeguard took position at a barricade, the rest of the team — some 50 people — stayed out of sight. As usual the convoy came by and pulled up abruptly, almost surprised by the barricade.
A sidekick came out to inquire, and soon the don followed. He was, of course, furious. And he took it out on the poor sub-inspector, who was looking quite miserable with fear, slapping him several times.
The officer panicked and started screaming — not exactly the pre-arranged secret call sign — at which the rest of the police charged in. “We beat the hell out of them,” says Jasvir, reliving what was clearly a moment of triumph.
The don himself got slapped around and soon took off for Nepal to keep out of the way of the young officer. Though Jasvir had in the process won himself a lifelong enemy, Pratapgarh rejoined civilised India.
The army havildar’s son had come a long way from his tiny Hoshiarpur village in Punjab. He is clear that he completed school only because he was interested in studies and not because parents or relatives ever wanted him to study that far.
The next stop was the Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. A classmate, the well-known pollster Premchand Palety, remembers Jasvir as a simple man with simple tastes: vegetarian, teetotaller and, of course, being a Sikh, a non-smoker. He remains a bachelor because he didn’t have the time to marry when he should have and now his reputation seems to be a bit too formidable.
Palety says, “The one time he came close to getting engaged was when the girl’s family had not done enough ground check — once they figured (his zeal for correctives), they ran away.” Jasvir smiles, “It’s their loss.”
He studied hard and qualified for the Police Service in the first attempt, a matter of prestige. Uttar Pradesh became his assigned cadre. “I had never been to UP before and didn’t know what it was like.”
An early lesson he learnt as a raw IPS probationer was from a crusty old sub-inspector. On duty with him one day, he heard the old man ask a complainant — an old woman — for her caste.
“I was shocked,” he says and remembers asking the sub-inspector why her caste should matter. “He told me that policemen get dismissed in UP for not getting the caste right.” That was a useful first lesson.
He learnt fast and was soon in the thick of things — giving politicians a hard time (not his job strictly, but intended collateral damage) and chasing and gunning down outlaws.
The Tyagi gang of Meerut vanished; most members were eliminated. And that became his calling card. “Minister and politicians wanted me in their constituency after hearing about Meerut,” says Jasvir.
They would soon know this young SP came as a package deal, warts and all: he doesn’t listen to anyone when in uniform. Many politicians would unconsciously wince at any mention of Jasvir. His stint as SP in Allahabad was also eventful and he had a great future. Or so he believed.
And that’s when things began to sour. The don was a big man now, with an avowed mission to finish off Jasvir. The young SP was soon reduced to making rounds of courts and the administrative headquarters of UP police. Jasvir faced 16 departmental inquiries and four near-dismissals. These are not corruption cases or of violation of criminals’ rights. But they drained him physically, emotionally and financially.
He had two attacks of facial paralysis, which laid him up at home for a year. And then during a brief hospitalisation for a minor illness he discovered he is diabetic.
“I mortgaged some village land,” he says, “to pay the lawyers.” Jasvir hired the best lawyers, who he says wryly “charged me their usual fees thinking I have piles of corruption money — being an SP”.
Appearing in court once, with reduced security, the don’s goons caught up with him. He managed to escape with a torn shirt. But that’s what life had become for him.
For many years now he is languishing in a department most IPS officers prefer only to retirement — food and civil supplies. But he is relishing it, raiding hoarders and defaulters.
His only satisfaction — perhaps a little twisted — after all this is this: “They don’t want to give me a good posting, but no one wants to confront me. And here is the best part. No one wants to be my senior.”
Jasvir has a big, loud laugh. His wiry frame unwinds as he laughs and then withdraws into a state of steely readiness that field operatives develop to protect themselves from surprises. Don’t surprise him.