Urban Legend: Udupi’s Singham, Annamalai, the philosopher-cop

Being on the force afforded him an unexpected life, with sudden transfers and hectic schedules.

'Supercop, ‘Udupi Singham'... DCP Annamalai Kuppuswamy is arguably one of Karnataka's most beloved IPS officers. Turning his back on an IIM placement, he turned to the civil services, where he became known as a 'people-friendly cop'. Known for his tough stance on communalism, Annamalai has dealt with riots in Bababudangiri and taken on ISIS in Kundapura - he’s a hard-as-nails cop with an unconventional approach. 'Udupi’s Singham' tells DARSHANA RAMDEV about talking philosophy with religious extremists, tackling crime and living up to his role as a leader through social causes, interacting with students and writing

"Will you bring back my child?" It's a tough question to answer, looking into the eyes of a grief-stricken mother whose 17-year-old daughter has been raped and murdered. IPS officer Annamalai, now DCP, Bengaluru South, was serving as an SP in Kudanpur at the time. The brutal rape-murder was the first case of its kind he had handled. "I said to her, no, I cannot do that but I can make sure her memory lives on." True to his word, he began the Akshata Devadiga scholarship, given to girl students who top their tenth-standard exams in the Byndoor taluk. "I give the topper Rs 10,000 a month. I have been doing it for five years and I intend to continue."

The first cases are always the hardest, he recalls. "You don't forget the first accident or the first murder or suicide. You see someone who hasn't done anything wrong on the road but who pays for someone else's mistake. And you can't help wondering, 'why him'? Why not the guy who broke the rules? It makes you question life and God, too."

Annamalai has come a long way since. Eight years into his career as an IPS officer, he has spent six years on the field, serving in Udupi, Mangaluru and Chikamagaluru before he was posted here as the DCP for Bengaluru South. It's been an eventful run already - serving as SP in Chikkamagaluru, Annamalai was at the heart of the Bababudangiri riots in 2017 and before that, in Udupi, dealing with communal tensions and radicalisation. The IPS officer with a turn for social justice, he soon earned himself the title Udupi's Singham, not just for his ability to battle crime but for a host of other initiatives, including the promotion of eco-friendly transport.

Born into a simple, agricultural family in Coimbatore, Annamalai graduated with an engineering degree and made the cut into IIM Lucknow. He wanted to be an entrepreneur and it was with dreams of wealth and material success that he arrived at the Indian Institute of Management. It was there, during those two years, he says, that "everything changed."

Simply put, Uttar Pradesh was a shock. "I come from conservative, well-ordered state," he says. "UP was a culture shock. There, people will commit murder for Rs 5. The things I saw there changed me. I had never seen such stark poverty, or even imagined that life could be this way." It shook him, enough to make him re-assess his own life and what he wanted from it. "Money stopped being a priority then. I wanted a life where I could make a positive change in people's lives. The civil services seemed the way to do that." By the time his IIM stint came to an end, he was resolute and didn't even sit for the much-awaited placements. "I took the civil services exam instead. The IAS was my first choice but my rank didn't allow it. When I found I was eligible for the IPS, I took it. I was happy in uniform."

Being on the force afforded him an unexpected life, with sudden transfers and hectic schedules. "But I see myself as more than a policeman. Honestly, I believe myself to be a leader. That's what anyone who enters civil service is, really."

A Google search for DCP Annamalai throws up dozens of results - replete with glowing tributes from the media. Here, he lives up to his title, Udupi’s Singham. And there's the Annamalai who talks philosophy to students. "I interact a great deal with students - they are the future. If I can inspire one student to think differently, my job is done."

In 2013-14, as radicalisation in the Muslim-dominated coastal town of Bhatkal, Annamalai developed a deep interest in Islam as a religion. "I studied the Quran then and even interpreted the texts at a mosque in Kundapur," he says. "This was how I took ISIS head-on." He found, as he studied the Quran and the Hadith, interpreted by religious scholars from around the world, he realised that misunderstanding and ignorance lie at the heart of communal chaos. As a police officer, he says, his job ends with filing an FIR and booking a case but Annamalai isn't content with letting things lie. "One FIR leads to another, that's my philosophy," he says. Instead, he invites these people to sit down and talk. "When you hear them out, you realise both sides have a logic of their own. It comes down to perception."

In Bababundangiri, he organised a peace committee meeting in 2017, with leaders from all sides, soon after a spate of riots hit the already-troubled area. Communal tensions arose when a group of miscreants vandalised the Dattatreya Bababudan Swamy Dargah, a site of long-standing dispute between Hindus and Muslims. "That's when I explained to them that this vandalism is the work of a few fringe elements. It’s not upto the police to provide 24-hour security, as the Muslim community had demanded. “

From the Hadith to Kalki, the Quran to the Nayanars of Shiva, a deity for whom he feels an affinity, Annamalai’s lifelong immersion in literature, he says, has made him grounded. “When I went on a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar recently, both Hindus and Muslims asked me if I had seen Lord Shiva. I told them that I’m looking for the supreme-consciousness, the same Paramatma they seek in Mecca and Medina. At the end of the day, we’re all the same, we’re all on the same path.”

These are risky undertakings, whether it is battling ISIS or dealing with communal strife in Chikkamagaluru. And when he runs into the midst of an angry stone-pelting mob or comes face-to-face with “hardcore, really hardcore” extremists, it’s frightening.

“I have a son who is dependent on me, of course it’s frightening. But it’s like what Paulo Coelho said: The universe is conspiring to give you what you want. I do believe that if you have the right intentions, then you will be safe.”

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