The Dynamic K.Vijay Kumar, IPS (Retd) Senior Security Advisor – Union Home Ministry
Four sets of sixty push ups. This isn’t the fitness regimen of a Mr. India in his twenties. Or for that matter, a young IPS probationer at the National Police Academy. At sixty four and away from khakhi for four years, now you know why K.Vijay Kumar still looks at least twenty years younger than his real age. Make that thirty, if you factor in the firm handshake. Or the ram rod straight gait that has a signature uniformed service ring to it. Small wonder that when other officers have movies made based on their entire career, there are films inspired by Vijay Kumar’s work in different posts.
‘Once a cop, always a cop’ is not a mere slogan for this 1975 batch highly decorated IPS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre. Keen to capitalise on his expertise in policing even post retirement, the previous Congress led government appointed him as a Senior Security Advisor to the Union Home Ministry. A change of guard at the Centre did not make a difference with the present BJP dispensation continuing to pick his brain on security related issues in Maoist areas in the country.
The ‘my daddy strongest’ belief was no exception to a young Vijaykumar, whose father V.Krishnan, then a Sub Inspector of Police, was his first hero. From the age of five, there was a yearning to step into the police boots, with an added dose of inspiration drawn from the likes of the late F.V. Arul, Inspector General of Police (those years, there was just one IG to head the force in the State) who was considered a “legend in the Tamil Nadu Police” along with K.F. Rustamji and later the inimitable Walter Davaram. When Vijaykumar joined the National Police Academy (NPA), the then Director S.M. Diaz, used to exhort the young officers to ensure that the size of the ceremonial tunic worn while passing out of the academy remained the same till their retirement.
The dare devil cop had first shot into prominence when he was in charge of the Prime Minister’s Special Security Group (SPG) in the mid eighties. “I used to be amazed by the energy levels of the then PM Rajiv Gandhi. A light eater and an extensive traveller (I must have travelled to about 52 countries with him), he would always look fresh.” After a five year stint with the SPG in the national capital, Vijaykumar returned to Chennai where he set up and headed the Special Security Group (SSG) for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. “This was like a combination of the SPG and the NSG (National Security Guards). The commando training imparted to our officers was remarkable. So was working with some very fine officers like Sanjay Arora, Karan Singha, R.N. Sawani, Ashish Bhengra and Sangaram Jangid.” Even today, the 2 minute drill – of bathing, shaving and donning the full uniform by the time people cook instant noodles, is still talked about in commando circles. A skill that I’m reminded of during the morning rush to drop my kids at school every morning!
I first met and covered Vijaykumar when he was posted as the Commissioner of Police in Chennai in 2001, after serving as IG Operations in the Border Security Force. In a few months, there were a series of encounters in which the most notorious gangsters in the city fell to police bullets. “We cleaned up the city and made it absolutely safe. But the credit goes to the team I inherited. I had an awesome foursome in J.K. Tripathy, Sylendra Babu, S.George and G.U.G. Sastry in charge of Law & Order in South, North, Central Chennai and Traffic respectively.” The police encounters did elicit its share of protests from human rights activists, provoking the action oriented top cop to once quip that “our guns are not meant to be ornaments when we are attacked.” With his ‘hard on criminals but soft on citizens’ approach, the image of an autorickshaw parked in the Commissioner’s office portico right next to the top cop’s car, which was brought to take an elderly petitioner home, is still fresh in my mind.
For all the sensitive and high profile posts he has held, Vijaykumar is still known as the officer who killed Veerappan. The elimination of India’s ‘Most Wanted’ sandalwood smuggler who had been cocking a snook at two State governments for decades by kidnapping celebrities and dictating terms to them, through ‘Operation Cocoon’ was achieved due to “absolute freedom, trust and confidence” of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The former Special Task Force (STF) Chief is quick to acknowledge the role played by his batchmate and predecessor in the Sathyamangalam Forest – R.Nataraj, (now the dream MLA of Mylapore) in winning the trust of tribals and gathering actionable intelligence. Leading by example and from the front in difficult jungle terrain, as opposed to shouting instructions from the comfort of an office cabin, Vijaykumar emerged the darling of his men, evident from that image of his team carrying him on their shoulders after the success of Operation Cocoon. The sheer satisfaction of accomplishing what seemed like Mission Impossible and the national acclaim he won, probably prompted him to finally give in to the wishes of his fans to write a book on the Veerappan saga, the release of which is expected in a month or two.
It may have been coincidental or providential that soon after the 26\11 terror strikes in Mumbai, Vijaykumar was posted as the Director of the National Police Academy in Hyderabad. On the sidelines of a farewell tea party, he told me about his plan to focus on commando training and the formation of a Tactics Wing as part of the grooming of the IPS probationers. “I never forgot the words of my own Director S.M. Diaz and used to constantly motivate my trainees: ‘Your belt size must never change throughout your career.” Coming from a super cop who practised what he preached, his wish would be their command.
Armed with vast experience in security and counter-insurgency operations, Vijaykumar was the most logical ‘go to’ officer for the leadership of the Central Reserve Police Force. The CRPF had just suffered its deadliest Maoist ambush in which 76 CRPF jawans were killed in Dantewada. As the Director General of the CRPF, Vijaykumar’s first task was to ensure that his communication permeated almost 10 levels in order to reach the constables. “I was fortunate to have had very professional bosses in the then Union Home Minister P. Chidamabaram and Union Home Secretary G.K.Pillai.”
For an officer, who even post retirement, can give Hollywood action heroes a sprint for their dollars, the fact that he is a grandfather may not be easy to believe. I’ve seen him bonding with one of his grandsons – Aditya, at a CRPF event in Chennai. And I’m sure the same holds good for his clinical psychologist daughter Ashwini’s kids as well. Vijaykumar’s son Arjun, an ace architect and builder in Chennai, gives his mother Meena credit for managing the home and kids whenever his dad would be away at work.
A voracious reader of both fiction and non fiction, Vijaykumar loves to tuck into his favourite biriyani every weekend. His medals and awards are well known. Not many are aware of his string of degrees – a Master of Arts, a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, two Masters Degrees in Law and even a Masters in Business Laws from the premier National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.With those four law degrees, would the khakhi super hero think of donning the black gown at some point? His reply is straight from Antony and Cleopatra: “In nature’s infinite book of secrecy, little can I read.” How about another improvised gem from Cleopatra? Age cannot wither him. Nor retirement dent his amazing fitness.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer of the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)