DR S A SUBBAIAH: CHRONICLING THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KODAGU’S (COORG) FIRST IPS OFFICER
By C.P. Belliappa
It was in 1961 that I joined Loyola College in Chennai for my PUC. A couple of days after I joined and settled in my hostel room, there was a knock on the door. I gingerly opened the door and there stood a senior. I braced myself for a round of ragging.
“Hi, I am Somayanda Freddy Subbaiah. I am from Coorg. Welcome to Loyola,” he extended his hand. I was relieved. He then took me across to meet the other Kodavas in Loyola including his elder brother Vittal. Freddy and I became good friends and remained good friends.
Freddy Subbaiah was born in Chettali to Somayanda Appachu and Kongettira Gange in 1944. His father owned a tea estate in the Nilgiris. Subbaiah had his entire education in Tamil Nadu. He had made up his mind quite early in life to be an IAS officer. He single-mindedly started preparations to crack the tough UPSC exam. He diligently took part in all the activities in the campus and was particularly active in the debating society. After completing BA in Economics, he continued in Loyola for his MA. As a post graduate student, he stood for the presidentship of the students’ union of Loyola college, which was a very keenly contested one. Freddy won the prestigious election and did commendable work during his tenure. This stint would help him later in the UPSC interview.
After completing his post-graduation, Subbaiah immersed himself in preparing for the UPSC exam; and still found time to attend Madras Law College to earn a degree in Law. He was very earnest in whatever he did and was extremely hardworking.
Freddy wrote the UPSC examination in 1968 and qualified for the final round which was the interview in New Delhi by a panel of retired senior bureaucrats and officers from the defence services. My father, C.M. Poonacha, was the minister for railways at the time. I happened to be in New Delhi. Subbaiah stayed with us a couple of days ahead of the interview. He was quite satisfied with his performance at the interview.
However, when the results were announced Subbaiah narrowly missed the IAS and qualified for the IPS. The reason why he missed the IAS was the reservation policy. Though disappointed he accepted the IPS and opted for Karnataka cadre. He was the first Kodava IPS officer post-independence.
After intensive training in National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, and at the National Police Academy, Mount Abu, Subbaiah got his maiden posting as probationary Assistant Superintendent of Police at Belgaum, in January 1970. That was the beginning of an illustrious career.
Freddy Subbaiah proved his mettle at every posting he held. After serving as ASP at Yadgir he was soon promoted and posted as Superintendent of Police at Kolar Gold Fields. At KGF he endeared himself to the people with his prompt addressing of any issue that cropped up. When he was transferred to Tumkur as the SP in 1973, there was widespread disappointment at KGF for losing one of the best police officers the district had seen.
After two years in Tumkur, Subbaiah was transferred to Mysore as the SP, which is one of the prestigious postings for young IPS officers. His sincere, prompt, dedicated and diplomatic handling of law-and-order issues were highly appreciated, not only by the people, but also by his seniors and political bosses. It was during his tenure at Mysore that Subbaiah tied the knot with Sumathi, daughter of Muckatira Aiyappa from Byrambada village, in 1976.
Subbaiah was highly knowledgeable and very well read. After joining the IPS he was keen on contributing to the intelligence and security issues of the nation. His seniors recognized his treasure trove of knowledge and his abilities and recommended him for a deputation to the central government. In 1979 Subbaiah joined as an officer in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) under the cabinet secretariat. He served the organization with great distinction for 17 long years.
Subbaiah surprised his family and colleagues when he earned a doctorate degree in economics from University of Mysore in 1983. While he was totally involved in his job, he still found the time to pursue his PhD. Despite his busy schedule, he made time for his family. Sumathi ably supported him and together they raised their two sons Bopanna and Mandanna with all parental care.
His dedicated work impressed everyone. In 1984 Subbaiah was appointed as the First Secretary at the Indian High Commission, Singapore. His next posting in 1988 was a coveted one at Geneva with dual assignment as Consular General of the Indian Mission as well as the Indian Representative to the UN at Geneva. He served in this position till 1991 and had the opportunity to visit several countries. On his return to headquarters in New Delhi he was involved in sensitive assignments such as the Shah Commission, Jain Commission, ISRO spy case and the Bofors probe. While on overseas assignments he closely followed the activities of the LTTE and gave valuable intelligence inputs to the government.
Freddy’s achievements and his immense contribution to the nation as an officer in RAW reached the highest echelons of the administration. In recognition of his yeomen service, he was awarded the President’s Medal for Meritorious Service followed by the Medal for Distinguished Service. He was the first recipient of the Asadharan Suraksha Seva Praman Patra, the highest award for outstanding contribution within RAW. He received the award from Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao (photo).
In 1996 Subbaiah decided to return to Karnataka, though RAW was reluctant to let go of an outstanding officer in the department. With his seniority and experience he was appointed as IGP – Intelligence. A year later, in February 1997, he was promoted as Additional Director General of Police. Subbaiah was on course to occupy the top job in the state.
I kept in touch with Subbaiah and met him in Tumkur, Mysore, Bangalore and at Geneva. My wife and I had dropped in at his residence in Indiranagar a few months before tragedy struck on that fateful day, 10 April 1997. Subbaiah went out for his morning walk and suddenly collapsed. Before any medical aid could be given, he passed away. It was shocking beyond words for his family, colleagues, friends, and the political leadership. He was aged just 52 and had many more milestones to cross in the years ahead.
Several articles appeared in national and local newspapers by those who knew Subbaiah well. Everyone uniformly expressed high accolades for Dr S.A. Subbaiah as he was officially known. One of the most succinct and insightful comments was from the Cabinet Secretary while forwarding a note to the prime minister on the outstanding work by Subbaiah to the nation. This was quoted by B. Raman who retired as Additional Secretary:
“What a pity the nation cannot be told of this officer’s outstanding achievements.”
Subbaiah was involved in some highly sensitive intelligence operations. He never discussed details of his work even with close family and friends. Undoubtably Subbaiah would have taken part in assignments as daring as those carried out by NSA Ajit Doval. Subbaiah would have been the DGP of Karnataka and would have eventually headed one of the premier Investigating or Intelligence agencies of the nation. Despite holding high ranking positions, he remained simple and unassuming. Subbaiah’s untimely demise 25 year ago was an irreparable loss to his family, the Kodava community and the nation at large.