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Good cop bites the bullet

Ajai Raj Sharma has dealt with some high profile cases in his illustrious career. He writes about it with flair in his recently published memoir 

Ajai Raj Sharma, 76, will go down in history as one of the better commissioners to have led Delhi Police. No surprise that he was actively considered for the post of Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, not once but twice–both by the NDA and UPA governments. He has had an eventful career spanning 38 years and was one the rare police commissioners who was not from the home cadre. He was handpicked by Atal Bihari Vajpayee but he gives credit to the then home minister, L K Advani, in his memoir. 

Sitting in his study in Noida after a golf outing he shares that he was a sportsperson before he became a cop, and it’s commendable that despite knee replacement surgeries on both his legs, he regularly plays golf, his indomitable spirit keeping him going unperturbed. It doesn’t take long to realise that he’s a natural storyteller, and narrates with joy the rich experiences he’s had dealing with outlaws. “I’m a cop by birth,” he says, “I had made up my mind as a child. I hate it when people are bullied and injustice is done.”

Sharma was barely 21 years old when he got into the Indian Police Service, Uttar Pradesh cadre. Even during his training, thanks to his initiative and drive, he was able to solve cases. In his very first stint as the ASP of Bareilly, he gained a reputation of being an officer who nabs criminals and solves cases. He retained this reputation throughout the length of his career. 

Thanks to this reputation he was handpicked for tough assignments. Amongst the long list of tryst with dread criminals is the encounter with Sriprakash Shukla. Shukla was a dreaded mafia don with political ambitions, India’s most wanted at the time. Shukla who was barely 25 years old, had taken a Rs 5 crore contract to kill the incumbent chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh in 1998. Sharma was instrumental in establishing the dreaded Special Task Force (STF) of UP Police with the mandate to neutralise mafia and organised crimes, and was also the first ADG of STF, which went on to kill Shukla in Ghaziabad on 22 September 22, 1998. His book gives a detailed account of what transpired.      

You can also read the inside story of some major events of historical significance. Like during his stint as the Commissioner of Delhi Police, between 1999 to 2002, the Parliament attack where five gunmen entered the premises and started raining bullets. All five of them were killed and the case was investigated in record time. 

It was also under Sharma’s leadership that the cricket betting scandal was first exposed. Hansie Cronje, the then captain of the South African team was revealed to be part of it. It was a shock to the cricketing world, reducing an icon to the position of a scamster. After this expose, a slew of investigations revealed that betting in cricket posed an existential threat to the sport. Sharma himself, being a cricket lover, was fairly dejected. 

He also presided over the investigation of the sensational murder of Phoolan Devi, erstwhile dacoit–a movie was made on her life by Shekhar Kapoor–and a sitting member of Parliament. So if you are interested to know how these cases were solved, read Sharma’s memories. He narrates how the cases were solved in days giving a gripping account of the events as they unfolded. 

It’s not surprising then that within a month of the launch of the book, he is being approached by filmmakers and producers to purchase the rights for his book, to convert parts of it into a movie, or even produce a television series. After all, his life story is enriched by episodes of “chasing bandits, tracking terrorists, quenching communal fires, unearthing match-fixing syndicates and much more,” his own words. 

Though he’s dealt with many high profile cases, some of them historic in nature, he loves talking about his stints early in his career when he was dealing with the bandits and dacoits in the rustic terrains of Chambal and Farrukhabad. “Unlike what they show in Bollywood movies, dacoits don’t use horses,” he says with a smile. This book is a great read for those who want to understand how the police functions, the reality as against the fantasy created by films and soap operas. 

Writing this book has been a learning curve for technologically challenged Sharma, he now knows how to operate a computer. He typed the book at a slow pace, taking him about a couple of years. “I would have done it earlier if I was adept at using a computer,” he says. Notwithstanding, as they say, slow and steady wins the race. He’s open to the idea of writing more books and describing in detail the investigations of high profile cases of historical significance. 

In his memoir, Sharma deals with the larger question of what makes a good police officer–the one who follows the rule book even if it means letting go of the criminals or the one who makes his own rules to bring criminals and outlaws to justice? “There’s no right or wrong answer,” he says and adds, “for me, a good police officer is one who brings the culprit to book, without jeopardising his conscience.” He advises, “Interrogate the rule book, push against your boundaries and question your circumstances instead of simply accepting them.” 

He was a pragmatic cop and turns out to be a forthright writer. “I strongly believe that this memoir can serve as a document for young officers to learn how, even with the lack of resources,  to successfully perform their duties, if the intent is right.”