Saturday, March 17, 2012

The humility of Hasan Gafoor

For the last few months, very infrequently though, I was requesting Hasan Gafoor to provide me a picture of his late father Khwaja Gafoor. The senior Gafoor had retired as the additional chief secretary in Maharashtra and was instrumental in the establishment of the state Urdu Academy along with some other Urdu afficionados. "Yes, he was part of that group," he told me. However, when pressed for a photograph and some more details, he would not venture much. "Look for it. You will definitely get it from somewhere. Try the central library in London for his book where you will get what you want."


That was so typical of Hasan Gafoor. I remember asking him about a case as a journalist covering the crime beat and he told me: "Speak to the senior inspector. He will have the details." A thorough professional, his personality belied the fact that he was an ace shooter who hardly missed the target. Simplicity marked his personal and professional life.

Not much is known about the sandwiches he used to carry for lunch in his younger days. His staff used to wonder how their 'sahab' could manage to survive the whole day on 'few slices of bread'. Some felt he was more suited for a posting in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the National Police Academy (NPA). But it was perhaps for these few slices of bread from home, that he did not go on central deputation except to Air India much later in his career. His family including his aged mother (who died few months ago) were well settled in Mumbai.


One of the decisions he took after becoming Mumbai police commissioner in 2008 was scaling down his own personal security. During the 26/11 attack, he chose not to wear a bulletproof vest just like the several other ordinary cops. He himself escaped being a target of the Pakistani terrorists while outside Trident. But Gafoor was not the one to blow his own trumpet. Nor was he the one to malign anybody. Which is why the interview he gave to a magazine (in which he named four IPS officers for not responding well to the 26/11 situation) came as a surprise.


Despite being ill-equipped the Mumbai police had its share of heroes. While Tukaram Ombale, Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar among others lost their lives giving the ultimate sacrifice there were also some who bravely took on the terrorists. Vishwas Nagre Patil, the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) of South Mumbai was right inside the Taj hotel. The area was under his jurisdiction and he took the challenge head on. 


I was among the earliest reporters to reach the Taj site thanks to photographer colleague Raju Shinde who got a tip that 'a group of drunken youth had opened fire'. Later, I noticed the official car belonging to Rajvardhan, a DCP who was not really obliged to be there but had ventured inside Taj. I spoke to his anxious driver who said 'sahab andar gaye'. I immediately called him and left messages. He responded after few hours. Rajvardhan went inside because he felt he could not be anywhere else. And no words can do justice to Sadanand Date's heroic exploits at Cama Hospital.     

Hemant Karkare's funeral was the next big event for the media where some senior news channel journalists had also come. Gafoor did not give any interviews there, while the then state DGP A N Roy obliged them with bytes just next to the pyre of Hemant Karkare. The enormity of the 26/11 attacks meant that those in the hot seats had to show they had done their best or at least cut a good figure through the media. Hasan Gafoor was the last officer to indulge in such exhibitionism. 
What made matters worse for him was that he also became an easy prey for some who got the media to focus on him. And not being a 'ring back with confirmation' police officer, it was much easier for the media to go after him. Interestingly, a news report indicates the possible role of Nira Radia in the vilification campaign against Gafoor.

Unlike most of the officers, Hasan Gafoor never texted reporters. He would never 'confirm' or 'deny' anything through a text message. He would only speak on the phone or meet journalists in the office. Occasionally, he would return calls. Barring important cases like the 26/11 terror attacks and the earlier arrests of Indian Mujahideen terrorists (where in both the crime branch and ATS chiefs shared a platform), Gafoor kept his press conferences to a minimum. A senior inspector of police excited about his 'marvelous detection' requested Gafoor to take the press conference. Gafoor told him: "I have seen your interviews in the media. You speak very well. Go ahead why do you need me."

One police commissioner was so concerned about his image that he used to send an officer to meet journalists who portrayed him in a 'bad light'. One such officer came to meet me with his master's grievance - the commissioner was unhappy with his picture being used with a story pertaining to the Mumbai police! A senior journalist told me about a supercop who took an influential editor for a drink after his publication carried a negative report about him. Gafoor used no such tactics or tricks.


Any other officer in place of Gafoor, with even a slightly better penchant to deal with media, would have become a hero for heading the Mumbai police in the wake of an unprecedented terror attack. Sadly in the media, humility and heroism don't go together.