Former Delhi Police Commissioner, Ajai Raj Sharma’s memoirs, published in the form of a book, Biting the Bullet, makes for a fascinating read, not because it is written by a top cop who in his heydays was often referred to as “Dirty Harry”, but also since the author happens to be perhaps the longest serving field officer in the IPS. Sharma had spent a considerable part of his life working in the most back-breaking terrains of Uttar Pradesh, including Agra, Banda, Farukkhabad, Allahabad, Varanasi and Meerut, and thereby brings to fore anecdotal episodes that took place during his illustrious career.

Last week the book was released by former Delhi Lt Governor, Vijai Kapoor, easily the finest IAS officer, who served in pivotal positions of the capital and was a highly regarded bureaucrat. Having extensively covered the city during my long span with the Hindustan Times, the Times of India and the Hindu, amongst the papers I was associated with, I can with complete confidence state that Kapoor was an outstanding officer, who was an authority on virtually every aspect of administration, and knew Delhi like the back of his hand. Therefore, it was not surprising that Sharma requested him to be the chief guest at his book release function.

It is quite uncommon for senior police functionaries to put on record their long journey in the service; other than Sharma, Mumbai Police Commissioner, Rakesh Maria, has penned a book that has stirred a huge controversy. Biting the Bullet is the saga of Sharma’s close encounters with dreaded dacoits, who had unleashed a reign of terror in the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh. Two other top police officers of the city—Neeraj Kumar and Maxwell Periera have brought out very readable books, highlighting their exploits in the force, and it would be a wish come true if Dr K.K. Paul, B.K. Gupta, Mukund Kaushal and Nikhil Kumar also commit to paper their long innings in uniform. Sharma’s success in dealing with many notorious desperadoes fetched him two Police Medals for Gallantry, and consequently, he was the only Delhi Police Commissioner to have been awarded this rare honour. The other two Delhi Police Commissioners who have been recipients of the Gallantry Medal are Ved Marwah and T.R. Kakkar.

The high point of Sharma’s exploits was that he was handpicked by two UP Chief Ministers to help in bringing down the crime rate so as to restore a semblance of law and order in the region. In the early 1970s, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna assigned him the task of eliminating Jarman Singh, a dreaded dacoit, who had even challenged the might of the state in Farukkhabad. The seasoned cop not only accomplished the assignment but also broke the backbone of the gang. In the process, he talks about how he had infiltrated the gang through a “mukhbir” (informer), who, however, was killed, while the operation was in progress.

Similarly, Kalyan Singh drafted Sharma to take out Siri Prakash Shulka, a young outlaw from Gorakhpur, who during his brief career had accepted a supari to finish off the CM. Shukla was tracked through his mobile phone and wiped out in an encounter on the Delhi-Ghaziabad road.

In Sharma’s recollections, there are many aspects of police functioning that are zeroed in on. The most prominent is that policing has no short-cuts and involves both fearlessness and perseverance. In addition, the world of informers, who provide real-time intelligence, is an integral part of crime detection. This is by no means an easy task but requires consistent efforts.

Another dimension that is focused on, is the fact that welfare measures of the personnel, was of utmost importance, since it helps officers and men to achieve their goals with relative ease. Any senior who connects well with his team also commands their respect and loyalty. This appears to be the case since Sharma, during his days with the UP Police, and finally with the BSF, did not hesitate in advocating their grievances to the higher-ups. He took up cudgels on behalf of the BSF personnel, who are deployed in the border areas, yet their perks are not at par with those serving the Indian Army, while at one level the jobs that are performed are identical.

A lesson from the book for aspiring police officers is that, it is most essential to have compassion and a humane side. In Sharma’s case, it is evident from his concern for even the criminals—some of whom were rehabilitated by him—after giving up criminal activity. He has experienced his share of painful moments when as a young probationer, he saw the bullet-riddled body of SI Mahaveer Singh, who despite being unarmed, confronted notorious gangster Phoola. The sight of Lakhi, an informer, who was a facilitator in the liquidation of Jarman Singh, lying in a pool of blood with his eyes wide open, till this date is deeply etched in his mind.

Ajai Raj Sharma was the Commissioner when the attack on Parliament took place. He was also on the scene when the cricket betting scandal involving Hansie Cronje was worked out. It is a known fact that he has been one of the most accomplished officers the Indian Police Service has produced. In all probability, had he been the Commissioner, the Shaheen Bagh matter would have been sorted out and the police would not have been involved in any controversy by their questionable actions in both JNU and Jamia. Unfortunately, these days, officers like Sharma are a rare species. Between us.

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