Crime is always glamorous and has been the subject of many Bollywood films over the years. Policing never was.
Yet Yadavrao, `YC’, Pawar, IPS, was already the stuff of legend, the inspiration for Om Puri’s no-nonsense character in Ardha Satya, when I was a rookie journalist in the 1980s.
Around the same time there was a notorious don, Varadarajan Mudaliar, whose story has been transcribed into many successful movies notably Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan (Tamil) and its Hindi remake Dayavan that glorified Mudaliar and dressed his story up to make him look like a latter day Robin Hood. But, through the decades, I am yet to come across one that might have featured Pawar’s oeuvre in totality, though many films have characterised, loosely or undisguised, several of Bombay’s more recent top cops. D Shivanandan (Company, played by Mohanlal), Rakesh Maria (Black Friday played by KK Menon), AA Khan (Shootout at Lokhandwala, played by Sanjay Dutt) are among the officers immortalised by Bollywood.
I was not a crime correspondent, so I never came into contact with either Pawar or the notorious don in my salad reporting days. The don is no more nor would I have ever wanted to meet the man had he been alive. But my curiosity about how the conflicts and interactions between `Varadabhai’ and the Shiv Sena might have changed the socio-political fabric of Bombay led me to seek out Pawar – and I spent a fascinating couple of hours listening to some of his stories that defy belief, but are only too true.
I had a rather romantic view of the 1980s (perhaps from a beginner’s perspective) but much of the corrupting influence rose from the earlier decades -- most of the dons at the time, taking advantage of India’s tight laws on these issues, were into some `lesser’ activities (if I may call it that) like bootlegging and smuggling of gold and electronic goods. Narcotics and the smuggling of arms and terrorism were a gift of the late 1980s and 1990s. Listening to Pawar’s account of the nexus between policemen, politicians and criminals that gave rise to these activities, I was left with not a bit of illusion about those times.
There are still plenty of good men in the police force but such are the times today that the corrupting influences are rather more ordinary than those which existed when Pawar, despite all sorts of pressures, worked out of the box and drove Varadabhai out of Bombay -- the only cop anywhere in the world to have smashed a gang so completely.
Pawar’s record is unequalled anywhere in the country. “No one comes even a close second,” he tells me. He might sound arrogant but it is also true that criminals thrive not because policemen are incapable but often they simply cannot be effective. “It is very difficult to come out unsoiled from a job like this. I am lucky that I came out both clean and alive.’’
When I spoke to former supercop Julio Rebeiro on the same issue, he told me he had had little to do with the decimation of the Varada gang. ``I only gave Pawar a free hand and backed him up all through.’’
And though the man, who got to the top as Joint Commissioner, is a little bitter about what, despite that support, he had to go through in terms of the hounding by the system for his clean act, his Marathi book, `Mee, YC! (first published in 2002), releasing in English as YC: Real Time Cop next week, is a fascinating read.
But it is not the entire story of his life and times. ``I have had to keep 30% of the incidents out of this book,’’ he says. He will tell me some of it if I switch off my tape recorder. I do.
Nearly three decades into my career, I begin to second-guess Pawar, now a vice president with the state BJP, as he relates incidents and characters. I have only a vague idea about the policemen he might be talking about but, as a political journalist, I have little difficulty in identifying the politicians in his story.
But as my euphoria at getting their names right subsides, I am horrified that I know nearly all of those politicians well. And, from all political parties, they are all respectable faces who have occupied real high offices at some point or the other. Heavens! Or should I say `hell’? God help us all!