Friday, January 25, 2008

An officer and a gentleman

Lessons in management from the tough and honest cop who had the underworld ducking for cover.

D. Sivanandhan, CoP, Thane

It was sometime around 1998-99 when the then Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, introduced me to his “blue-eyed boy,” D. Sivanandhan, I.P.S., then Joint Commissioner (Crime). It was a difficult time for Mumbai. The ‘Bhais’ had been making a fine art of extortion. Public confidence was at an all-time low. People were running scared. If you bought a car, you could expect a dreaded extortion call.

Special situations somehow throw up special people. And Siva, as he is called by friends, was the man of the moment. He became what was called the barrier between the bullet and the businessman. He also needed to be prominent in the media in order to reassure people. There couldn’t have been a better man for the job. Siva is genial, informal, has a flair for publicity and public relations, is very accessible, and most important, has a reputation of being a tough, honest cop.

The media loved Siva and he did a wonderful job. He was seen standing outside wedding halls introducing himself to anxious parents, telling them to call the police if they were contacted by extortionists.

He and his elite team focused on a multi-pronged strategy that included encounters, rounding up illegal arms, detaining known trouble-makers, arresting gangsters fearlessly, introducing new and effective legislation and making the police presence felt all over the city.

‘Not one builder was shot after July 1, 1998” says Siva, “and there was not a single bomb blast during that tenure. I kept the people busy running.”

I comment about his larger-than-life image. Something that grew even bigger after the release of the movie Company where South Indian and Malayalam superstar Mohanlal plays the role of a policeman modelled on Sivanandhan.

“Bombay was becoming like Beirut. I had to win the trust of the people,” says Siva. “I used the media to say that no gangster can harm you if you approach the police. I was in Gadchiroli before that time fighting Naxalites. I came to Mumbai and realised I was being seen as the only hope people had. Consular officers would call me and enquire if it was safe for their personnel to be stationed in Mumbai. The choice was between winning and failing. Between making money and making a name for myself. I chose to win. And make a name.” Siva has a unique capability of making grand statements without sounding immodest. In fact, he comes across as a humble person.

He also spearheaded a unique initiative called Alert Citizen where citizens were asked to call in to a designated telephone number and report any crime they saw, all with the assurance of complete anonymity. Siva was able to get the complete cooperation of the advertising and media community for this initiative, and I was able to observe his functioning at close quarters.

I had marvelled at the fact that even at the height of those troubled times, when he was taking on the entire underworld, Siva could be seen walking alone down Marine Drive every morning.

No escorts or gun-toting lackeys around him, unlike other senior I.P.S. officers. “I still walk alone,” he says quietly. “I am not afraid. If you send out a signal that you are scared how can you possibly make the general public feel secure?”

“In an atmosphere where policemen are generally considered corrupt, how have you built an honest reputation for yourself?” I enquire. Siva looks philosophical.

“Whether you talk about the crumbling Roman Empire or any decadent system, there is always an enviable corner reserved for honest people. That is a nice corner to occupy. Yet, being honest alone can make you a liability. You must combine honesty with action and the result will be widespread appreciation. You will enjoy the glow of acknowledgement.”

I try baiting him by asking him how he handles political interference. He is cool as he says, “Political interference begins with signals you send out. I have never experienced any political interference.”

Few people know that Sivanandhan began his professional life as an Assistant Professor of Economics at the CBM College in Coimbatore. He appeared for the UPSC examination, qualified for the I.P.S. and the rest, as they say is history.

Along the way Siva managed to “organise life in a manner where you make time for the family”. His stints at the IB and CBI were phases that did not demand the 24X7 rigour of policing. “I have moved 27 houses in 30 years,” he adds, smiling. “So how do you cope with the stress that is obvious in your life?” I enquire.

Siva loves organising and managing events. He organises cultural programmes, lectures and the like. And likes attending talks by people like Stephen Covey. He is an avid reader as well. He opens his drawer and pulls out three books he is currently reading. I notice one is by Robin Sharma and the other by me.

His advice for young managers is “hard work, honesty, positive thinking and productive work”. He does not like people unproductively quoting from a rule book. He exhorts young people to take risks, face criticism and build character.

As Commissioner of Police in Thane off Mumbai, Siva has been involved in making something quite miraculous happen. He has raised about Rs 10 crore and built a modern, well-equipped school. Initially for policemen’s children, the school now opens its doors to the entire community. An educational trust runs the school.

He has also built a hospital that is going to be run by a private company.

A trendy café outside his office is run by wives of policemen, a monument to policemen who lost their lives in the line of duty has come up and a huge modern structure encompasses the parade ground.

His efforts are a sterling example of how a public spirited officer with a vision can get around the labyrinth of red-tapism and governmental apathy and do something that benefits his force and the community it is meant to protect.

“Life is so simple if you don’t expect anything from anyone. You just give your best. And life will be rewarding,” says Siva. Well said, Sir! May there be more officers and good human beings like you.

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