Monday, May 20, 2013
Last Updated: 20 May 11:13 AM IST
Most of police training institutions across the country today are in a poor state. Besides inadequacies of infrastructural facilities, they have become dumping grounds for inefficient and often discredited officers and men who command little respect from the trainees. Many of them, instead of motivating the trainees, spread the message of frustration and cynicism. However, there are some refreshing exceptions ~ some titans among the minnows. One such was EL Stracey, who was the deputy commandant of the Central Police Training College, (CPTC) Mount Abu, where we had undergone our police training after joining the Indian Police Service.
CPTC was a makeshift institution hurriedly set up after Independence. Training facilities were inadequate, if not poor. In the training curriculum, there was overemphasis on drill, parade, horse riding and physical exercises. To many probationers, CPTC was indeed an acronym for Constant Physical Torture College. Many of the trainers in both indoor and outdoor sections were inadequately equipped to train IPS officers and many suffered from various limitations and complexes.
But one person, who stood tall and commanded respect and awe, was Stracey, an IPS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre. Smart, handsome and ramrod-straight, Stracey was an inspiring model; one of those ideal trainers, who took joy in imparting training to the budding leaders of the Indian Police Service. He took this training assignment with almost a missionary zeal and imparted to it some rare grace and flavour.
Stracey was a stickler for correct etiquettes and manners and took great pains in teaching the raw probationers how to hold forks and knives correctly at the dinner table, how to greet a woman and how to salute smartly in uniform. We used to call EL Stracey “Etiquette Loving Stracey”. He could be stiff and blunt at times but always sought to inculcate among the probationers officerlike qualities. He had an eagle eye and was quick to detect the lapses of probationers at the parade ground and malapropisms in the classroom. He would teach us how to salute properly and how to conduct ourselves befittingly on and off the parade ground. Socks not matching the shoes and trousers, hastily shaven cheeks and loose tie knots never escaped his eyes. We learned from him many a social grace and nicety. Though punctilious, he was never a heartless martinet. Behind the apparently-tough exterior, there was warmth and concern for the wellbeing of the trainees. Once he noticed that one of the probationers was lowering his head too much while taking soup. He advised him not to do so and humorously added that horses did that.
He used to take classes on police administration. He was not very sound on the rules and procedures of police manuals or sections of the Indian Penal Code but clear on fundamental ethical issues concerning policing. He always emphasised that short-cut, extra-legal methods were impermissible and counterproductive and sullied the image of police thereby hampering good and efficient policing. After nearly four decades, when I had the privilege to join as the director of the National Police Academy in Hyderabad, Stracey became my role model.
At the entrance of the National Police Academy’s office building on the black piece of marble the following lines are inscribed: “Michelangelo was once asked, ‘How do you produce statues that are so full of life?’ Michelangelo said: ‘It is just a matter of extracting them. The rough marble already contains the statue.’ There is already a fine officer in you. Help us to chisel it.”
Whenever, my eyes fall on those lines inscribed on marble, I think of Stracey. We heard from Stracey the vicissitudes of his service career and the sea of troubles he faced for not being a pliant officer. But ultimately, he made the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu. In Odd Man Out in Indian Police, Stracey traced the high and low watermarks in his service career and the difficulties he encountered for crossing swords with politicians. And, he narrated all this without any rancour.
So far work is concerned he would not spare anyone. But streaks of sadism and vindictiveness, which we have witnessed in many senior officers, were conspicuously absent in him. He would tick off not not only the probationers but also the instructional staff and even the senior officers coming for training in advance courses. He once pulled up a senior officer who later became a Member of Parliament for coming late as a player in the cricket field which he said had set a bad example for junior officers. He would also chastise senior outdoor trainers for using swear words in the parade ground. However, he also made it clear that IPS probationers would have to follow the discipline of the parade ground and unquestioningly obey the directions of the field trainers. Once admonishing some errant probationers, he said that sometimes one needed to be cruel in order to be kind. Firmness and fairness should go side by side, he said.
Our training in Mount Abu also included a programme of Bharat Darshan to enable us to catch fleeting glimpses of the different parts of the country and understand its bewildering diversities and the underlying thread of unity. Our Bharat Darshan program involved a visit to Delhi and a meeting with home minister Pandit Govind Bhallabh Pant. A stalwart of the freedom struggle, Pant was a venerable and powerful leader, enjoying a position only second to Nehru in the Central government at that time. During our interactive session, Pantji, with shaking hands (a consequence of blows received in police lathicharge during the British rule) expounded on the new role of police in Independent India. In course of the discussion, Stracey pointed out how political masters wanted quick results against crime and criminals, indirectly pressuring police to adopt short-cut and quick-fix methods. Pantji misunderstood Stracey and upbraided him, calling him an officer of the old school. The meeting ended on a sour note. We came out sadder but not wiser.
Nearly 20 years later, when I was serving as a deputy inspector-general of police (Western Range) in Rourkela, I received a letter from MIS Iyer, the then deputy director of the National Police Academy mentioning that Stracey’s sword would be displayed at the Central IPS Mess. He asked me to suggest some appropriate inscription to mark the display. I wrote to Iyer that Stracey was a living legend and would occupy a place of honour in the annals of the Indian Police Service. I suggested he inscribe following lines of Shakespeare: “Be just and fear not. Let all the ends then aimst at be thy country’s, thy God’s and truths.” I sent a copy of the letter to Stracey, who was then serving at the director-general of police, Tamil Nadu. Stracey wrote back: “The compliments you pay are very touching; all the more because they are sincere. I only hope I deserve them.”
I shall always remember Stracey as the role model of a trainer. His handsome appearance, dignified bearing, graceful movements, eye for detail, total commitment to training and unremitting endeavour to improve an institution made him the ideal head of a training college. Today, many of police training institutions are in a bad shape and some of them are crumbling. We need outstanding, committed officers like Stracey to head these institutions and impart to their dry bones the Promethean spark of life.
The writer, a retired IPS officer, is a Senior Fellow
at the Institute of Social Sciences