A dark nexus in Mumbai | HT Editorial
It may have started with 20 loose gelatin sticks found in an abandoned SUV outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence, but the case has blown up, and now, the fate of state home minister Anil Deshmukh hangs in the balance. Former Mumbai police commissioner, Param Vir Singh, has accused Mr Deshmukh of running an extortion racket by reportedly setting monthly targets of ₹100 crore for certain policemen (including Sachin Vaze, arrested for his role in the SUV case). A suspended Mumbai police inspector has now written to the home department making corruption allegations against Mr Singh.
All sides are in the dock, for key questions remain unanswered. Why did Mr Singh only raise his voice against the home minister’s reported corruption after being shunted out of his post? Why was Mr Vaze, who had been suspended from the force for his role in an alleged custodial death, reinstated in 2020 and given an important post? Why is chief minister Uddhav Thackeray not ordering an immediate probe into the serious charges against Mr Deshmukh and seeking his resignation? And why is Sharad Pawar not acting against the home minister, who is his party’s representative in the state’s beleaguered coalition government?
But the issue goes beyond the immediate. No major party in the state has focused on police reforms, a possible reflection of the complicity of all actors in systemic corruption. Until the police are kept insulated from political interference, whether in terms of postings or transfers, or in terms of their investigations, the two will forever remain in an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. As political scientist Milan Vaishnav has explained in the context of politics and crime, there is a supply-side issue, where individuals (and this can extend to mean corrupt cops) seek political protection to preserve and expand wealth, and a demand side issue, where parties depend on illegal finance (and this takes the form of extracting resources from state institutions such as the police and citizens). What is needed is a charter of wide-ranging reforms in the criminal justice system that could lead to quick judicial decisions (such as on Vaze’s role in the alleged custodial killing; instead, the matter is still in court, 18 years later); in the political finance regime; and in watchdog institutions, which should strongly enforce the law and expose wrongdoings. Maharashtra must address the nexus of politics, police and crime.