“Remembering K. F. Rustamji – an officer and a gentleman
I will never forget Khusro Faramurz Rustamji. He was my favourite policeman. You cannot be a Zoroastrian and not have heard of him. He was to the Indian Police Service what Sam Maneckshaw was to the Indian Army. An outstanding officer, a fine gentleman, a hero in challenging circumstances, and a legend. He was also an inspiration to generations of policemen after him. And to people like me fortunate to acquire his companionship, he was a friendly guide.
I knew Rustamji well. And I thought of him when recently the Border Security Force, which he raised in 1965, reverently remembered and honoured him on his birth anniversary. He was India’s first Borderman – the first Director General of the elite force guarding our borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. It played a significant role in the Indo-Pak War of 1971 and Liberation of Bangladesh. But there was a lot more policing to Rustamji than the BSF. He had a glorious past.
As chief of Madhya Pradesh Police he entered the notorious Chambal Valley and eliminated dreaded dacoits like the feared Gabbar Singh. He was Chief Security Officer to Jawaharlal Nehru and held the first Prime Minister’s ear on all matters related to national security. When he was Special Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Rustamji headed the committee that led to the formation of the Indian Coast Guard. He set up the National Police Commission.
For all of which, Rustamji got the Padma Vibhushan, and he remains the only Indian policeman to receive this second highest civilian honour. When I got to know Rustamji in the late 1990s, he was already in his 80s, but the government still remembered his distinguished service and sought his views on a slew of subjects of national interest and involved in various commissions to do with security, justice, law and order, and even crime.
We became friends because he was a columnist for my newspaper and wrote with an urgency that demanded immediate reading on pressing national issues. He used to languidly stroll into the office to give his copy. A tall, spare man. Impeccably dressed. A jacket casually thrown over the arm. Two fountain pens in the pocket of his uniform pin-striped shirt. I had done the crime and courts beat and, naturally, I knew who Rustamji was. I was delighted to make his acquaintance.
He had a cup of tea with me every time he came by. And he talked while I listened. Pakistan was his hobby horse. And he wrote so that General Pervez Musharraf, the military President of Pakistan then, followed him closely. Rustamji told me once, “Musharraf is a military man, the nuclear button is safe in his hands, what would India do if some fanatic or clergyman in Pakistan got their hands on it?” I agreed with this and reported it. Hoping Musharraf would read it in Islamabad.
We remained friends till his end in 2003. Rustamji was 86, but energy-plus. He took a fall and developed a crack in the spine. For which he was hospitalized by force. The night before he passed away, I remember India was playing Pakistan at the Centurion in South Africa for the ICC World Cup. Rustamji sat up in his bed at Jaslok Hospital and witnessed our victory. Perhaps wondering idly what Pakistan’s defeat by India on an international stage must mean to Musharraf.”