In a book that he describes as a “lockdown child”, seasoned police officer Mukund Kaushal outlines elements of his leadership and management style as he looks back on his career through a series of incidents and issues, and what they taught him. Kaushal, who retired in 2001, was commissioner of police in Delhi, director general of the Central Reserve Police Force, and, unusually for an Indian Police Service officer, secretary (internal security) in the Union home ministry. Over nearly four decades, he worked with governments of different political hues.
As Delhi’s police chief in the early 1990s, he came across as unflappable, genial but firm, seemed to have a phenomenal memory and an eye for detail. These traits come through in the book, Sailing On My Own Compass: A Policeman’s Diary, formally launched in June.
Kaushal meticulously details some of his most important assignments: from his role as “exposition commissioner” during the exposition of the holy relics of St Francis Xavier in 1974-75 in Goa, to Delhi’s police commissioner in the 1990s; from his initiative in clearing then prime minister Narasimha Rao of allegations levelled by stockbroker Harshad Mehta in 1993, to his situational report on the arrest of two Union ministers by the Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu in 2000, which seems to have led to the transfer of the governor; from negotiations with militant and insurgent groups, to the coordination of elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 1996.
Most of the chapters are short, episodic, with their titles indicating his takeaways from each. In typical Kaushal style, he doesn’t dwell on the lows—so while he details how they admirably kept the peace in Delhi’s walled city in the days following the Babri Masjid demolition, the rioting in a north-east Delhi locality gets just a couple of lines.
He names officials who come in for praise, preferring not to name those shown in a somewhat uncomplimentary light. The language is simple, without dramatic flourishes; the problematic actions of others are related in deadpan, scathing fashion. As he outlines his thoughts on the shortcomings in the behaviour of public servants, the biggest leadership tip, arguably, is “to learn to manage yourself”.
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Policemen tend to get a ringside view of events that shape national consciousness, informing and influencing its social fabric; they are also subject to tremendous pressures, so much depends on how they handle these. Assuming they wish to, they need to know how and when to dig in their heels, the best tactics for each situation, how far they can go. Kaushal shows himself a master at this, whether it’s the way he contained the influence of a powerful trade union leader in Goa or clipped the wings of the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi, simply by ordering that only the area SHO (station house officer) would deal with him and cutting off access to senior officers. It wasn’t easy. In the latter case, he even got a call from the then prime minister and had to transfer the SHO, though he did manage to post him to another police station in the walled city. After a BJP rally was disallowed in February 1993, the fallout ensured the police got 34 breach of privilege notices from Parliament.
Though there are revealing, even startling anecdotes, not everything will appeal to the general reader. Interest in the details on augmentation of paramilitary forces, for instance, may be limited, though the issue is undeniably important.There is some amount of repetition that better editing could have taken care of. But the detailing of some crucial events in recent national memory is valuable. There’s a lot to take from the book—and a sense that much remains unsaid.