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Monday, January 18, 2021

Adieu Ajit

Ajit Datt , my dear friend and batch mate in the IPS , passed away in his sleep, at his Gurgaon residence, yesterday. In a manner of speaking , he was lost to us , his close family and friends sometime back; what died yesterday was his body . He was suffering from dementia, his memory had been badly impaired. Memory is what creates the illusion of self-hood , memory is what makes a person human, and relatable. He had become a complete stranger to himself , what comfort and cheer could he bring to those close to him? We often used to look him up but Corona put a thousand miles of sea between friend and friend and to my lasting regret I had not seen him for quite a while.
He was a good athlete, a proficient sportsman and a fairly competent boxer. But he was outstanding in his sportsman spirit and sense of fair play. Life, however, played foul with him, it hit him below the belt.
He took to his job as a policeman with great gusto and commitment . As A S P (undertraining ) at Rohtas, Sasaram in Bihar, his chase- and -grab sequence during the arrest of a notorious criminal – had the hallmarks of a block buster crime thriller. There may not be official records , he left no personal account of the event because he thought his job was over, the moment he had performed the task . It was for the government and the police department to recognise his service, to memorialise it for successive generation of officers. He was never into marketing himself , into the odious business of pimping for oneself which is the sine qua non of some officers these days . Some young IPS officers whip up tales of valour and fictionalise routine work- a- day events as great acts of courage and bravery. All these Singhams stalking the social media, all these privates posing as generals were not heard of in our time ! Just to underline the bitter irony , a local newspaper recounted that heroic deed of this arrest in Sasaram ,Rohtas, in great detail, sometime in 2013- 14, about 40 years after the incident, but put a different IPS officer, with the surname Dutt in the central role. The heroic deed lives on in public memory , but the hero is forgotten. I shared it with Ajit’s daughter
Kamna Datt Bangaru
on facebook , because Ajit was too serious for frivolous activities like facebook .
During the Sikh riots, as SRP Dhanbad, he went beyond his call of duty to provide succour and solace to the marooned Sikhs in trains, on Dhanbad railway station, including arranging for medical help for a woman who was pregnant. Bokaro and Dhanbad were the worst affected districts, as far as the riots were concerned. But the defining moment of his career was his deputation to Bhagalpur, to quell a communal riot that was raging for some time. The PM was greeted with slogans of Jay Sri Ram by the local constabulary. There were unseemly stories about communal bias and abdication of responsibility against the previous SP. (He later went on to become DGP Bihar)
Ajit not only brought peace to Bhagalpur, he brought to light one of the most brutal events of the carnage in which scores of people were killed, their dead bodies disposed of and cauliflowers planted over the patch of land where they lay buried. He was posted as a regular Dy. IG Bhagalpur and stayed there for ten years, during governments of all shades of political opinion and Bhagalpur enjoyed a peace like never before. His testimony as the prime witness during the trial of one of the most important cases of communal carnage was crucial and the ring leader was sentenced to death. Government of the day added another feather to its secular cap but Ajit’s much expected promotion to the rank of IG never came about.
His personal courage, bravery and the ability to take responsibility was amazing. He never blew his own trumpet, so his sterling qualities went unsung, unrewarded. The good is bound to be interred with his bones but an instance of carelessness in managing his inventory as SP Nalanda , or maybe his implicit trust in his subordinates, embroiled him in a CBI case that dogged him throughout his career . For even someone who was himself a part of the criminal administration system, the system took thirty five years to come to the conclusion that he was not guilty as charged . He retired as Dy IG, but eight years after his retirement he was promoted as DG retrospectively, and given the benefits. Many insiders believe that the genesis of the infamous ‘uniform scandal’ lay in a clash of egos between two powerful IPS officers. In an effort to chastise the junio officer for his impertinence , a case of conspiracy was built. Ajit and many others may have became collateral damage.
Even God in whom he had unshakable faith played foul with him. His young son died sometime back. Balancing his personal grief against his belief in God, may have been a bit more than he could handle. We – I and my wife - visited him after his son ,Neeraj’s death. His dementia was not that bad . I could see that he was perfectly aware of his situation , while recounting events he would some time lose track , but that was more because he was making great efforts to fight off his tears . ‘Do tears not yet spilled wait in small lakes? , I wondered , ‘Or are they invisible rivers that run toward sadness?” I wanted to tell him, ‘let the dykes of restraint burst ,let the tears irrigate and inundate your whole being. Men , even brave men, have a right to cry sometime.
He came to see me off till the gate, assuring me all the while that things were normal , that he had come to terms with the situation, but his voice sounded hollow and lacked that conviction which was his hallmark. As we drove on, I saw a slouching figure, walking back in the semi darkness , with measured steps to counter the effects of Parkinsonism. That is the last I saw of him . I did not know that this was the last I was going to see of him .

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