Hyderabad: He was the cop tasked with ‘stopping’ Mr Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, from coming to Hyderabad in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat riots. To get there, former top cop M.V. Krishna had travelled a long distance.
Along the way, this student of former Naxal leader Kondapalli Sitaramaiah was involved in the Indravelli encounter, said to be the first such event in Telangana in April 1981, in which 13 tribals were killed.
He wrote an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code and introduced the concept of undertrials attending court hearings via videoconferences. And he handled communally sensitive situations in Hyderabad.
His first posting was as assistant superintendent of police in Krishna district, where he learnt the ropes. “That is where I learnt to run a police station. I remember in May 1976, there were six different cases. There were dead bodies and inquests from 9 am to 1 am.”
“I soon got used to hard work, sleep deprivation, inclement weather, standing for long hours and got adjusted to rural life,” he says. He was soon posted to Guntur with an independent charge.
One case stands out. It was a murder and the victim’s son and the daughter-in-law were the witnesses. Something seemed odd, but the police had registered a case after a complaint from the son. So, keeping the FIR aside, Rao went ahead and found that some hired killers had murdered the old man.
“In my service we never deviated from the FIR. Our philosophy was to stick to the FIR so that we can get a conviction in the court. But I did not want to be guilty of prosecuting the wrong people. I was hell-bent on finding out who actually committed the murder,” he says.
This from a person who says “I still am a lazy guy, and do not like to do much unless there is a task at hand.” But he admits that he did not sleep for ten nights in the Indravelli incident.
Those days, the Naxalites were fighting against the Lambadas who had been added to the list of Scheduled Castes. This had angered the Advisas. Kondapalli Sitaramaiah, a former school teacher in the area, was heading the Naxalites. Mr Rao had studied under him in the early 1960s while in school.
The Adivasi-Lambada fight reached a flashpoint. The Adivasis were to congregate at Indravelli, a small village full of Marwari traders who would come from neighbouring Maharashtra to buy cotton.
Mr Rao recalls: “Revenue divisional officer Ambareesh and I parked ourselves in a school building from 8 am. This was April 19 and it was the peak of summer. We saw many of them coming down a hillock with a dappu announcing their arrival. We stopped them a few yards from the village and told them that we were ready for talks,” he says. Those days Urdu was more prevalent and a smattering of Hindi, but the tribals spoke nothing but Gondi.
“Even as we were talking, one tribal with a spear killed constable Mohammed Ghouse standing next to the RDO,” he recalls. Police fireed tear gas but that did not drive the tribals away. Then the police opened fire. At the end of it all, 13 tribals were killed. This probably was the first ever police encounter against the People’s War Group.
After several other stints including in Adilabad, Srikakulam, Prakasam and as SP Intelligence he was DIG Visakhapatnam where he stayed for five years and worked with three Chief Ministers.
He was director of the AP Police Academy and then became RTC MD and went to the Centre on deputation. For two years he was with the CRPF and then became Director General of SSB, which guards the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. He is the only person to have done a stint there for two consecutive years.
He retired in 2010 but has been on the lecture circuit. While he teaches other subjects too, he is the resident expert on internal security and international relations.
“I teach the Constitution and the CrPC and I teach at all colleges. Internal security and international relations are not liked by law colleges so I go to people who aspire to be civil servants. There are 22 such coaching institutes in Hyderabad alone.”
“I have been on the executive committee of the Hyderabad Study Circle for 15 years,” he says. He recalls that even before retirement he was part of the managing committee of the Hyderabad Study Circle. And that is where his teaching career began.
“As a public servant it is always important to be a good listener,” says Mr Rao, adding, “and you have to listen to the public grievances. I think it is also necessary to lend an ear to the politician, since he is from the grassroots and is giving the perspective of the public.”
He became such an expert in law that he drafted an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure without a law degree, which Mr P. Chidambaram extended to the whole country. I amended Section 167, Sub Section II, as DG prisons, that was adopted nationwide in 2008 under the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
He says he enabled videoconferences between jails and courts. “Escorting prisoners to court is the job of the police and I used to be blamed for not being able to produce prisoners in the court. That was not the job of the prisons department. Our job was to manage the jail and its inmates.”
Now, 20 out of 28 states practice video linkage. Fake stamps scam accused Abdul Karim Telgi was tried in 14 cases via videoconference though he remained in the Pune jail. “To enable videoconferencing, I had to amend the Criminal Procedure Code and I became very good in law,” he says.
Mr Rao made a lasting impression when he became the police commissioner of Hyderabad.
“I used to be hated by Muslims, initially. I took charge as commissioner on February 25, 2002, when the Godhra riots happened. I took charge on a Thursday and the next day was Friday. People leaving from Macca Masjid attacked a police station at Bhavaninagar,” he says.
The mob set fire to motorcycles parked there belonging to the staff and to the police station. “All this within one day of my taking charge,” he says.
He had never worked in Hyderabad before and did not know about the Old City. Though he was a student of Nizam College, Abids was the southern-most point he had gone. He couldn’t speak Urdu. He credits the additional commissioner A.K. Khan, now government adviser, who taught him the language.
Before holding a press conference he sent out a press release in which he said: “Miscreants set fire to the police station.” The next day the Urdu papers translated it to mean ‘terrorists’ and the and the heading read ‘Kotwal (commissioner) calls those dispersing from the mosque as terrorists’.
“Everybody read it and were angry with me and that is why I called them for a meeting. We compared the press release and what had appeared and we finally secured the peace,” he says.
During his tenure as the Hyderabad police commissioner, the Ganesh procession fell on a Friday in September 2002. “We knew that the procession had to pass by several masjids. It was a very delicate moment.”
“We had to have a strategy. There are 55 khankhwas and we thought we would invite them over and have a one-on-one with each of them. They said they would host a meal and the Kotwal saab should be their guest. Every week I would have a nice meal and talk to them,” Mr Rao says.
“We requested their support. Before the actual procession I called the Muslim leaders for a meeting and had high tea at the Purani Haveli office. I asked them for their support and told them not to come to Macca Masjid for prayers. A large number of Muslim constables headed by A.K. Khan and DCP, Task Force, S.M. Iqbal were stationed at Macca Masjid. Their job was to see that after prayers all the devotees would leave by the rear gate. The day passed off without an incident,” he recalls.
Mr Rao adds, “In that context planning is extremely important. You need a team and you cannot do it alone and I had excellent team members and once you give them an objective they take care of it all.” In 2003, the Bhagyanagar Ganesh Samiti invited Mr Modi to Hyderabad. But his presence was not welcome for the Chandrababu Naidu government at that time, which had exited the NDA over the Gujarat riots.
The onus fell on shoulders of Mr Rao, who in his usual fashion said that he would use all his powers to keep Mr Modi from stepping out of Begumpet airport. Both Mr Modi and Mr Naidu met later in Srinagar for an Inter-State Council meet. With the help of the chief secretaries of Gujarat and undivided Andhra Pradesh, the bad air created by the episode was cleared....