Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

K. F. Rustamji: I was Nehru’s shadow.

The ‘One-Man’ Army!

Last evening, Abu Salem was not on anybody’s mind as a distinguished lot of Mumbai policemen gathered at Oxford Bookstore for the launch of K. F. Rustamji’s book i was Nehru’s shadow. Rustamji, for those who don’t know, was the founder Director General of the Border Security Force and one of India’s finest and most highly decorated policemen. He passed away in 2003. The book, written by P. V. Rajgopal, a retired IPS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, comprises entirely the diaries Rustamji kept between 1952 and 1958 when he was Chief Security Officer of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was released by Police Commissioner A. N. Roy at an elegant and classy function put together by Farzana Contractor, CEO of the Afternoon Despatch & Courier, and a relative of the Rustamji family. Mumbai was represented at the book launch by several retired police commissioners, some currently serving IPS officers, besides friends like Major General (retd.) Tej Kaul of the Indian Army and relatives of the Rustamji family like Perveez Agarwal and Rustamji’s son, Cyrus.

K. F. RustamjiRajgopal, who specially came down for the function, said he had broached the subject of the book to Rustamji in 1999 when he was the director of the National Police Academy and Rustamji a very popular speaker at the institution. “But who will read it,” the 83-year-old former policeman protested. Rajgopal persisted, having been struck by the idea of doing a book on Rustamji’s years as Nehru’s Chief Security Officer, and finally Rustamji agreed. He allowed Rajgopal the privilege of looking through seven cartons of his personal diaries and papers that had been donated to the Nehru Memorial and Museum in Delhi. “There were 3,500 hand-written pages dated between 1938 and 1970 which were a torture to decipher,” Rajgopal revealed to a tittering audience. Out of these pages, 1,600 were on Rustamji’s years with Nehru. “The book gives a complete picture of Nehru as a person and as the Prime Minister seen through the eyes of his Chief Security Officer,” explained Rajgopal.

Former Mumbai police commissioner Satish Sahney, who was called upon to say a few words, regretted that he never had the opportunity of serving under Rustamji but became the support of hi creation – the BSF. “His great asset was his ability to handle the variety of people that the BSF drew from police forces of the nation, the army, air force, and maintain a personal touch in his communication with the men and officers,” said Sahney. Another distinguished speaker was Arvind Inamdar, former director general of police for Maharashtra, and perhaps the policeman who was closest to Rustamji in the latter’s final years. Quoting handsomely from John Keats to illustrate Rustamji’s meteoric career as a policeman, Inamdar said, “In Rustamji we lost a good Parsi, a brilliant policeman, and the best Indian!” He expressly mentioned his heightened sense of loss in the death of Rustamji’s wife Naju earlier this year. “She was like my mother, she was always blessing me,” said Inamdar emotionally.

The two speakers were followed by eminent theatre person Dolly Thakore and travel writer Meher Heroyce Moos, who both read short extracts from i was Nehru’s shadow. Dolly chose one that revealed three different sides of Nehru. While Meher struck the Parsi note by reading an extract that showed the humorous side of Rustamji. Farzana Contractor, who did a splendid job of holding the evening together, took the mike to say that to be as wonderful a person as Rustamji was, it was necessary and important to have a wife as loving and understanding as Naju was behind him. “No words can describe their relationship and bonding, they were two very special human beings,” added Farzana, who had personally shared a tender closeness with the couple in their twilight years. She then went on to read a heartfelt portion of the book that demonstrated the deep sense of caring that Rustamji had for Naju and concluded her narration by sharing a visual she had in her mind of the lovely couple together in a garden of roses. Cyrus Rustamji, who presented a copy of the book to Police Commissioner A. N. Roy, said quietly, “My parents would have been happy if they could see this event.”

Roy, in releasing i was Nehru’s shadow, also regretted like Satish Sahney that he had not served under Rustamji, but admitted that he had “heard a lot about this doyen of the police force from all the legends, my teachers and gurus, and had read most of what Rustamji had been writing”. Roy said, “A lot has been written about Nehru, but this book throws different light on the different facets of his life and times. It shows Nehru as man, prime minister, it describes his temper and courage, and is all done by a person who saw him closely but from the fringes.” The Mumbai police commissioner, who himself held a similar portfolio in his career, said the job of a Chief Security Officer to a Prime Minister was a difficult one. Roy, who was Joint Director (Operations) in the Special Protection Group and had looked after the security of four prime ministers, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, Satish Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said: “All kinds of contradictions are built in the job. The policeman’s job is to provide security to the democratic leader by keeping him safe and far away from people. Whereas the democratic leader wants to get close to the people and win them over.” He added that the threat perceptions political leaders faced today were not around in Nehru’s and Rustamji’s time, but then neither was the security apparatus available today known then. “Rustamji, therefore, was like a one-man army, he was really Nehru’s shadow,” said the Mumbai police commissioner. “A police icon protecting a national icon,” said Roy, concluding that he was proud to belong to a fraternity that Rustamji led from the front.

The evening was concluded on a very warm and cosy note with the audience mingling with the distinguished speakers over cold coffee, hot tea, and Parsi snacks, while P. V. Rajgopal proudly autographed copies of the book for whoever bought them at Oxford Bookstore. “Rustamji agreed to let me write the book on the condition that royalties from its sale would go to the Welfare Fund of the National Police Academy,” said Rajgopal, giving a final insight into the great K. F. Rustamji’s mind that strove to work for well-being of the police force even after he was gone.