In a typical government office, the perception, often enough, is that you have to wait endlessly or ‘take care’ of the peon at the door to get a ‘darshan’ of the boss in the hot seat. Imagine the sight of petitioners emerging from a district police headquarters, looking quite relieved, some even euphoric, over the five star treatment accorded to them, as they ventilated their grievances. A seat, a patient hearing, a steaming hot cup of tea or coffee and the promise of immediate action. That’s because the name on the door ‘Ashwin Kotnis, IPS, Superintendent of Police‘ could have jolly well been ‘General Manager – Taj, Mumbai’. Not carried away by the three letters after his name, this 40 year old 2003 batch IPS officer firmly believes that the “police is like a service industry, not a power game.”
Having pretty much travelled the world, owing to the transfers of his father M.V.Kotnis, who served in the elite Research Analysis Wing (RAW), Ashwin picked up many languages. With the academic genes also from his mother Prof. Usha Kotnis, a Chemistry lecturer at Shivaji University in Maharashtra, he could have breezed into any regional engineering college but he followed his heart and pursued a Diploma at the Institute of Hotel Management at Ahmedabad. The suave young man cut his teeth in the hospitality industry at the Taj in Mumbai, as a Management Trainee. At one point, he very nearly turned entrepreneur and came close to setting up his own restaurant but stopped with consultancy.
However, the high profile avatars of his elder sisters – Sonal, a software engineer who moved to Zurich with her husband Daniel, and Deepa who stormed into the Indian Railway Accounts Service and married her batchmate M.S.Srikar, a ’99 batch IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, (both now on international deputation in Geneva) seemed to have cast a spell on Ashwin. After some thought, he decided to give the Civil Services Examination a shot and signed up for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science through Correspondence. As his second optional in the exam was Psychology, Ashwin spent barely 3 months in Delhi to get a competitive hang of this subject. And bingo. His All India 64th Rank in its maiden attempt suggested that he was destined for babudom, khakhi to be precise.
Over the last fourteen years, Ashwin has left a mark in five districts of Tamil Nadu and two brief Chennai City postings. Hardly two months after assuming charge in Nagapattinam, he conducted raids, made seizures, bust illicit liquor rackets and took the district, notorious for booze being pumped in from Karaikal, from the 37th to the 1st position in the State in offtake.
In a suit and tie, he can easily pass for a corporate head honcho but in uniform, Ashwin is quite a tough cop – a fact that criminal gangs in Cuddalore got to learn the hard way. His tough, no-nonsense approach caught the attention of his top bosses who posted him in the hotbed of rowdyism in North Chennai’s Pulianthope district as the Deputy Commissioner.
After a few months, he was transferred to St. Thomas Mount. But ask any young officer and they will tell you that the real thrill of policing is in the districts. Ashwin’s next stint was as Superintendent of Police in Salem, where he introduced a series of measures to make Yercaud and adjoining spots safe for tourists. The young SP left his digital foorprint in Sivaganga with the setting up of a District Cyber Cell. “I trained two reserve Sub Inspectors, got infrastructure in place and with the apparatus, we were able to crack many cyber crimes.” There were several periodic seizures, especially of batteries from mobile phone towers. Another noteworthy feat was the formation of a network of 34 check posts, all equipped with video cameras.
Arguably, the most challenging assignment has been his current posting as the Superintendent of Police, Tuticorin. Ashwin was handpicked for this district in the wake of a spurt in murders. “ I introduced a system of Bus Marshalls. Along 26 sensitive routes, I posted policemen and had video cameras installed. There are about 50 such teams. This has also turned out to be an effective intelligence gathering mechanism. You see, the moment the police know people by their names, that itself acts as a deterrent as they know they can be easily caught if they cross the line. Anonymity can lend itself to crime.” In this sensitive district, there have been no communal murders since Ashwin took over.
You don’t need him to tell you that fitness is a priority. Regular yoga sessions, work-outs at the gym form part of his regimen. “I’m a complete outdoor person. From snowboarding and skiing to white water rafting and diving, Ashwin has ‘been there, done that’. “I have a professional Divers Licence for upto 40 metres.” On weekends, he slips into his T-Shirt and Shorts and pedals away on his cycle with his wife and son in tow. The calorie count can be safely left to his Goan number crunching wife Aditi Joshi Kotnis! A Chartered Accountant, she used to work for PwC and is now with SPIC. “Tamil Nadu is highly industrialised. As we have industries across districts, as a CA, it’s easy for her to join the corporate world.” Eight year old Advait Kotnis is in Class 4 and like his dad, has already changed several schools.
What strikes you about this officer is his candour. And his total incapacity for doublespeak. And his integrity. And his service bent of mind. “I often tell my team that we need to justify our salaries.” Now that’s the hospitality industry streak morphing into khakhi.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer of the Madras High Court, Columnist, Political Commentator, Author, Mentor -Silver Tongue Academy Resource and Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)