No need for Anil Deshmukh to resign, decides NCP
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo and chief architect of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government Sharad Pawar on Sunday held a closed door meeting with party members including deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, water resources minister Jayant Patil, member of Parliament Supriya Sule and Praful Patel, in which it was decided that the party would not recommend home minister Anil Deshmukh’s resignation a day after the former Mumbai police commissioner addressed an unsigned letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray accusing Deshmukh of setting extortion targets of ₹100 crore for select police officials.
Former CP Param Bir Singh, who was transferred from his post to Commandant General of Home Guards, Maharashtra, on March 17, brought up the charges in a letter a few days after Deshmukh told reporters that the transfer was not routine but due to “serious and unpardonable mistakes” committed by police officers in the Antilia security scare investigation.
An explosives-laden vehicle was found outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence in February. The prime suspect in that case, currently in custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) which took charge of the probe on March 9, is a Mumbai Police Assistant Inspector, Sachin Vaze, who was reinstated in the force in 2020 after the MVA, a coalition of the Shiv Sena, Congress, and Nationalist Congress Party, took over.
Emerging out of a three-hour long meeting, state NCP chief Jayant Patil said that it was decided that there was no need for Deshmukh to resign.
He said the allegations against Deshmukh were an attempt to divert the attention from investigation in Antilia explosives case, which the MVA government wanted to be completed.
“There is no question of Deshmukh’s resignation. We don’t want to give in to the attempt to divert attention from the incidents and investigation into the same,” Patil said.
Patil indicated that the party top brass was convinced that the allegations made by Singh were motivated and were “an attempt to divert the attention.”
Pawar also met politicians from coalition partners Shiv Sena and Congress on Sunday to explain the NCP decision to back Deshmukh. Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut and Congress leader Kamal Nath met Pawar separately.
After the meeting, Raut said: “There cannot be resignation of chief minister or any other minister just for the sake of demand from the Opposition. Let there be an inquiry into the allegations by Param Bir Singh, after which the truth will come to the fore. If the resignations of the ministers are taken on the demand of opposition, half of the union cabinet will have to go.”
Following the allegations made in the letter leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis sought Deshmukh’s immediate resignation. He also demanded an impartial probe into the allegations.
“There should be an impartial probe by central agencies or a court monitored probe,” he said.
“For the first time in the history of Maharashtra, a director general level officer has made such allegations and that too with chats in which demand for money was made. The chat is an evidence to what Singh has said. We are of the view that the home minister should immediately resign from his position and if he is not ready then the chief minister should take his resignation,” former chief minister Fadnavis had said on Saturday.
On Sunday, BJP leaders and workers staged protests in various cities demanding Deshmukh’s resignation in view of allegations of corruption levelled against him by former Singh.
Speaking at a press conference in Delhi on Sunday Pawar said that he would hold meetings with party leaders on Monday as well, and speak to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, who is currently under quarantine as his son, state cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray is Covid-19 positive. Pawar said that the decision to remove the home minister from his post will be taken by the CM.
“Being head of the state cabinet, Thackeray has every right to take action against any minister after a fair investigation. I will speak to him about the allegations against Deshmukh, though the decision over it (resignation of the minister) will be taken by the CM. I am also meeting my party leaders from the State on Monday to discuss the entire episode,” Pawar said.
Pawar defended Deshmukh at the press conference and said that Singh made the allegations only after he was transferred and asked why he did not speak out about this issue during his time as commissioner of police. Pawar admitted having met Singh as mentioned in the letter but said that Sachin Vaze, the cop who has been arrested in connection with the Antilia security scare case and has been named prime accused in a related murder probe, was reinstated and given a key posting by Singh. Neither the home minister nor the chief minister had asked Singh to do so, Pawar said.
Vaze, who led the Crime Intelligence Unit of the Mumbai Crime Branch was initially the lead investigator when a Scorpio with 20 loose gelatin sticks was found parked outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence on February 25. Hiran Mansukh, a Thane-based businessman linked to the SUV was found killed on March 5.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said on Sunday the issue surrounding Deshmukh concerned Thackeray and the NCP as the minister in question is from that party.
“Sharad Pawar has commented on what is essentially concerning a minister from that part of the coalition. I think it would not be fair for me to say anything, much of what has been said by Pawar in consultation with the CM,” Singhvi said.
“The NIA as well as state’s Anti Terrorism Squad are investigating the case and we are sure the investigation will reach a conclusive step soon. The culprits in this case will be caught. It doesn’t matter how big the officer is,” Patil said, speaking to reporters after the NCP meeting on Sunday.
“The allegations by the former Mumbai CP are shocking and sensational. Its time to take corrective measures and time for the ministers and everyone in the government to introspect and check if their feet are on the ground. I must agree that the entire episode has dented the image of the MVA government as the police force of our state has always been the matter of pride. The police force is backbone of the system,” Raut had said before the meeting with Pawar in Delhi.
In the letter, which the Chief Minister’s Office has confirmed receiving, Singh accused state home minister Anil Deshmukh of “corrupt malpractices” for instructing police officers to “carry out official assignments and collection schemes including financial transactions”, as well as setting targets for them “to collect money” from establishments such as hookah bars and restaurants.
Deshmukh, who denied the allegations in the letter in a series of tweets, said late on Saturday that he would file a defamation case against the former Mumbai police commissioner, who was transferred on March 17.
Singh did not respond to calls and messages for a comment.
While the NCP may have decided to not recommend Deshmukh’s recommendation, there is a possibility that he would be shifted to other department.
“Pawar saheb is not happy with the way the entire episode was handled by the home department. Now with the allegations, there will be question of propriety as there will be a probe. As such a better option would be to take away home department from him and hand it over to another minister. Any such decision would be announced by CM Uddhav Thackeray,” said a key NCP leader said speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The options that are being considered to head home department includes Ajit Pawar, Jayant Patil, labour minister Dilip Walse-Patil and health minister Rajesh Tope, the leader said.
When asked if Deshmukh will be diverted of home department without taking his resignation, Patil avoided replying. “The change in the responsibilities in the state cabinet is taken by chief minister,” he said.
Patil also pointed out that several ministers in previous Devendra Fadnavis government faced allegations, but nobody was sacked by him
Taking the cognisance of the letter, the state government is expected to announce a probe into the allegations. “There could be a probe committee appointed under a retired IAS or IPS officer to look into the allegations. The committee may not be brought under commission of inquiry Act to ensure that its recommendations are not binding on the government. The government will also not want to give an undue importance to the letter by Singh,” said a minister requesting anonymity.
According to an Mantralaya official, the decision over the constitution of the committee may be taken after taking a view of the home department into consideration. The officer said that the department may ask for an explanation from the police officers and personal secretary of the home minister named in the letter by Singh to verify the claims.
“At the same time there could be a departmental enquiry against Singh for violating the All India Services Rules by levelling allegations against the home minister and the leakage of the letter,” the officer said.
Pawar on Sunday recommended that Thackeray consider entrusting the responsibility of carrying out a probe into the allegations against Deshmukh to retired cop Julio Ribeiro.
The former Mumbai police commissioner however, later refused to get involved in the probe.
NCP chief Pawar on Sunday tweeted, “He (Rebeiro) has a great reputation and if he accepts this responsibility then the truth will definitely come to the fore and public at large will start believing more in the police and in the government in particular,” Pawar tweeted on Sunday.
An in-depth inquiry should be conducted by an officer or an individual who enjoys utmost respect of the police administration and public at large, Pawar added.
Fadnavis who has demanded a probe into allegations by a central agency or a court monitored probe disapproved of Pawar’s suggestion, stating that a retired IPS officer cannot probe an incumbent home minister. “We have a great regard for Ribeiro but how can a former IPS officer and a retired DGP counduct an enquiry of a home minister? Deshmukh should first resign from the post for the impartial probe,” he said.
Ribeiro told news channel that he “would not like to touch this kind of murky situation” and that the state government, as such, may find another retired officer for the job.
Fadnavis said Singh’s allegations were not the only instance of corruption. He said that the former director general of police Subodh Jaiswal had submitted a report to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray revealing about a racket active in political circles dealing with the transfers of the senior police officers.
“A probe into a nexus of middlemen was conducted by the then commissioner of intelligence Rashmi Shukla. Phone calls were intercepted to unearth the racket and a report was submitted to the chief minister. But no action was taken into the report. Had the government acted on it, today’s damage could have been averted,” Fadnavis said.