Spotlight on Deshmukh as Vaze case strains ties
Deshmukh’s own position in the government came under a cloud as the state home minister met NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Friday at the latter’s Delhi residence.
Strained relations between Maharashtra’s ruling coalition partners came to the fore again on Friday as the Shiv Sena backed former Mumbai police commissioner Parambir Singh in connection with explosives found outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence, refuting state home minister Anil Deshmukh’s charge that Singh’s transfer was not a routine affair but due to serious mistakes made made by certain policemen in the high-profile probe.
An editorial in the Sena mouthpiece Saamana on Friday stated that just because Singh was shunted out did not imply that he was guilty. “The government had to do the reshuffle in police department under certain specific circumstances. Param Bir Singh was replaced in the post of Mumbai police commissioner, which doesn’t mean he is guilty. He took the charge of the post at a very difficult time,” the editorial said.
On Wednesday, Singh was replaced by Hemant Nagrale. On Thursday, Deshmukh, who belongs to the NCP, told reporters that a few officers from Mumbai Police has committed “serious and unpardonable mistakes” that had come to light in the preliminary inquiry in the explosives case, and that Singh’s transfer was not “routine”.
Sena leader Sanjay Raut had previously come out in defence of Sachin Vaze, a suspended police officer who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on March 13, for his role in the explosives-laden SUV parked outside Antilia, Ambani’s residence, on February 25. The party has also questioned the National Investigation Agency taking over the investigation, as directed by the Centre earlier this month.
The Saamana editorial added that Singh showed commitment towards the fight against Covid-19, visited Dharavi, which was a hotbed of infections last year. It also added that the TRP scam, in which Vaze had been part of the team that arrested certain accused, was brought to light under his tenure.
The Shiv Sena, which is in coalition with the NCP and the Congress in the state’s Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, has been at odds with the handling of the case in the past as well.
The Congress noted the contradictory tone. “Shiv Sena is praising commissioner Parambir Singh, while home minister who is from NCP said that the commissioner committed a mistake. Such contradictory statements would further damage the image of the government,” tweeted Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam.
Meanwhile, Deshmukh’s own position in the government came under a cloud as the state home minister met NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Friday at the latter’s Delhi residence.
On Thursday, Deshmukh had refuted allegations that he might be replaced over the state police’s controversial handling of the investigation of the Scorpio with explosives found parked outside billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s house last month.
Late on Friday, Deshmukh issued a statement denying news reports that he had resigned. “Had a discussion with Pawar saheb over the developments in the last two days in the probe being carried out by NIA and ATS. The news reports going on a few channels over my resignation are baseless,” he tweeted.
Earlier in the day, Deshmukh told reporters that he had briefed Pawar over the Antilia case, and sought his help in bringing an international firm which is interested in setting up a plant at Multi-modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN).
“I have briefed Pawar saheb about fresh developments in Mumbai related to the Ambani case. Both the NIA and anti-terrorism squad (ATS) are probing the case. The state has extended full cooperation to the NIA and will also take action based on their findings,” Deshmukh said.
The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made this case a political issue with leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis accusing the government of protecting Vaze.
In an apparent response to former chief minister Fadnavis’ subsequent claim that “handlers” of Vaze should also be brought to the fore in the investigation, the Sena mouthpiece said that the Opposition should investigate it and added that there were no “political bosses” in such cases.
“If the Opposition is loyal to Maharashtra, then it will not play politics over the reputation of Mumbai police. They have questioned that who is the political boss behind Mansukh Hiran case. They should find answer to this. But in cases like this there are no political bosses. This has been the culture of Maharashtra. If Mansukh Hiran has been killed, the culprit will not be sparred,” the editorial said.
On Friday, BJP MP Narayan Rane told news agency ANI that he has written to Union home minister Amit Shah and sought resignation of state chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and the imposition of President’s rule in Maharashtra.
“Due to poor law and order situation and corruption, I have written to Home Minister Amit Shah for Maharashtra Chief Minister’s resignation and the imposition of President’s Rule in the state,” Rane said.
NCP leaders said that the party leadership was mulling names of Deshmukh’s successors but denied the possibility of any change until a full cabinet reshuffle.“It all depends upon the three parties [of the ruling coalition government: Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP]. If all are ready and could decide their names of those involved, there would be a reshuffle and only then Deshmukh may be replaced. Until then he is likely to continue as the home minister,” a senior NCP minister said.
Party leaders said that deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, state party unit chief Jayant Patil, Dilip Walse Patil and health minister Rajesh Tope could be considered for the post after the re-shuffle. Tope was also called by the NCP chief on Tuesday.
However, the minister quoted above clarified that the NCP leadership didn’t want to create an impression that Deshmukh was in any way responsible for the botched handling of the high-profile case.