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Knowing Mumbai's new top cop better

Last updated on: June 22, 2009 09:09 IST

If you haven't met Dhanushyakodi Sivanandan, you could ask for a CD of Ram Gopal Varma's film -- Company -- and watch Mohanlal. Mumbai's new police commissioner was the inspiration behind the Malayalam superstar's role of a top cop in the film.

The character in the film called Srinivasan speaks Hindi with a heavy South Indian accent, looks like a professor and uses his iron fist with good effect to deal with the Mumbai underworld. The reel and the real lives couldn't have been more similar.

The Tamil Nadu-born Sivanandan taught economics for three years and shot to fame -- almost literally -- during his momentous tenure as head of the Mumbai Crime Branch during the late nineties. During his two-year stint as joint commissioner (crime), over 250 members of the Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan gangs were shot dead in police encounters.

Old-timers also recall how, as the police commissioner of Thane, Sivanandan set up a special squad of 40 commandos who were always ready on their motorbikes with machine guns. It was this ability to deal with the underworld with an iron hand that saw this 1976-batch IPS officer get the job, the principal mandate of which is to protect Mumbai from terrorists.

It wasn't the Mumbai mafia alone that Sivanandan fought successfully. He battled the Maoists as well when he was posted in Nagpur and headed anti-Naxalite operations. He was also part of the team that probed the 1993 serial blasts in the city and exposed the Mumbai link with the Kandahar plane hijack episode by arresting a terrorist who had close links with the hijackers.

But the image of an encounter specialist alone wouldn't have been enough to make Sivanandan the boss of what is one of the important police forces in the country. Sivanandan has also cultivated, rather carefully, his image of an HR manager par excellence. Sample this: He is known to hold daily meetings (called Darbars) with his men just to understand their problems and take corrective action. So when he saw one of his constables at Thane having lunch sitting on the office floor, he made sure that a cafeteria with basic amenities was in place.

Sivanandan has attributed this concern for his people to his middle-class background and to the hardship he himself had to go through after his father died when he was just 15.

Training is something Sivanandan is passionate about and he often dons the hat of a teacher in these sessions. The training (he set up the first fully air-conditioned police training centre in the state) ranges from combat-preparedness to self-development in softer skills. The basic idea is to keep pace with time. So when police constable Sunil More was arrested on rape charges, Sivanandan started gender-bias training courses.

However, it has certainly not been roses all the way. Sivanandan has had his share of setbacks as well. For example, it was under him that the crime branch made the sensational arrest of Sessions Court Judge J W Singh under the dreaded Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act ( MCOCA). The judge was later acquitted by the court.

He also hogged the limelight when he arrested diamond merchant and film financier Bharat Shah for his alleged links with the underworld, but the courts acquitted Shah. In 2001, he had to face censure from the state government after a mob killed a rapist in Nagpur. Then, as the police commissioner in Thane, he faced the ire of the Muslim community when the police fired at a mob in Bhiwandi, killing two people.

Despite all this, his well-wishers say, Sivanandan should have got the job long ago. He was ignored twice earlier, but the third time proved to be lucky for Mumbai's 34th police commissioner.

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Shyamal Majumdar in New Delhi