There are no innocents in the Rs 100-crore-a-month pay-offs scam which exploded in the face of the Monthly Vasuli Aghadi… er, Maha Vikas Aghadi government. Precisely for that reason the culprits seem to have closed ranks, protecting one another from the fires that sooner or later are bound to singe the coalition of opportunists. For, if the former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh enjoyed the blessings of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh was unhappy with him for neglecting his interests.
It is important to remember that the CM was keen to protect Singh even after the damning revelations in the Antilia bomb scare case. It was Deshmukh who insisted on his removal. Seen in this light, his singling out Deshmukh for the ‘truth-telling’ helps in understanding the character of the MVA incompatibles. If Singh has not said a word edgeways about the supreme boss of the Hafta Sena and its megaphones, who usurp his authority to give themselves airs as the ‘sutradhars’ of this unhappy marriage, it spotlights the sharp divisions within the ruling coalition.
Clearly, the CM and the HM were working at cross purposes not only in the Antilia bomb case investigations but even in the day-to-day functioning of the home department. The first open clash between the Sena and the NCP occurred over the postings and transfers of the deputy commissioners of police in Mumbai last July. The CM and the HM insisted on having their say in posting their own favourites in key hafta-collecting posts. Somehow that fight over sharing the spoils of power was sorted out.
But the reinstatement of the crooked Sachin Vaze against the high court directive, who after suspension in a case of custodial death had resigned from the Mumbai police and joined the Sena, emerging as its spokesperson, also revealed that Thackeray was actually calling the shots in a ministry which technically was under Deshmukh’s charge.
Remember how Thackeray had defended Vaze, countering the demand for his suspension, saying “he is not Osama bin Laden”. Of course, not. Vaze was actually the cancer that has slowly but certainly eaten into the very entrails of the Mumbai police, rendering it incapable of enforcing law and order and reducing it to a hafta-collecting machine.
In fact, some suspect the hand of the Sena behind the shocking allegations against the NCP leaders. Further proof of the intense power tussle between the Sena and the NCP emerged on Monday. Singh challenged his transfer in the Supreme Court, pleading that the allegations against the home minister be probed by an independent panel.
Maybe the reason why Sharad Pawar has refused to move Deshmukh out of home is he sees through the Sena game. His claim that Deshmukh was in quarantine after he was infected by coronavirus when, according to Singh, he is alleged to have met Vaze and another junior officer to demand the Rs 100 crore monthly pay-off is of course laughable. Yet, removing Deshmukh from home at this time would send out a message that the defenders of corrupt and criminal policemen such as Sachin Vaze have gained an upper hand in the Mumbai police. In all probability, Pawar would shift Deshmukh after the ruling coalition moves to its next scandal in which the focus is not on the home ministry.
As for the disgraced Param Bir Singh, his attempt to play the innocent victim convinces no one. After all, he was an active party to the reinstatement of the criminal cop-turned-Sainik, Vaze. He handed one of the most lucrative and sensitive charges in Mumbai Police to the same Waze. Again, he patronised that crook, a lowly ASI-level officer, holding close-door meetings with him while short-circuiting basic protocols of the supposedly disciplined uniformed force.
It is officers like Singh who willingly and openly encourage corrupt cops and ministers in order to snag plum posts. Politicisation of the police force is the bane of all administrations but the manner in which the Sena-Singh colluded, allowing hardened criminals-in-uniform such as Vaze to perpetrate one scam after another, was indeed extraordinary. That the Sena resisted the NIA taking charge of the Antilia bomb scare case, that it defended Vaze, that it dismissed the murder of Mansukh Hiran as suicide and did not want the NIA to take over the investigations, are all facts, pointing to its own soiled hands.
But desperate to save the rickety coalition, two key members of the three-group alliance may have temporarily closed ranks. Damage is already done. It did not have much of a moral authority to begin with when it first fructified into a power-sharing arrangement sixteen months ago. Now, after several sterling scams, its inner contradictions seem to be tearing it further apart. Attempts to paper over the differences will only evoke further ridicule and cynicism.