Time to clean up Mumbai
It started with a bomb scare (near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence, Antilia), turned into a murder (of Hiren Mansukh), revealed the dubious role of a discredited-yet-powerful police official (Sachin Vaze), led to the transfer of the city’s police chief (Param Bir Singh), triggered allegations about a massive extortion racket presided over by the state’s home minister (Anil Deshmukh), deepened cleavages in the ruling alliance (particularly between the Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena), led to multiple investigations by agencies on various facets of the episode (from the National Investigation Agency to the Central Bureau of Investigation), and has, finally, led to a political resignation (Mr Deshmukh). But this must not be the end of the story of the politics-crime saga that has been playing out in Mumbai.
There is a danger, however, that with Mr Deshmukh’s resignation — he should have quit earlier, and finally put in his papers after the Bombay High Court ordered a CBI probe into allegations against him — powerful political interests will seek to bury the matter. And as is characteristic of investigations in India, cases will get prolonged, the news cycle will move on, and all will be forgotten, except as a footnote in a larger story of how Mumbai is misgoverned. But that would be a lost opportunity, for no episode has, in recent times, opened up the possibility of cleaning up the dark networks that dominate Mumbai.
There is, of course, a political subtext here. The Centre would like its agencies to focus only on the corruption allegations to add to the troubles within the ruling alliance, while Maharashtra’s government will underplay its own complicity and allege a conspiracy. But it is important to investigate the underlying structures of corruption at the bottom of the police structure and at the top of the polity — and how they intersect. Politicians use the police for political, financial and personal ends; police officials are happy to serve in return for protection, promotions, and a share of the benefits. Sometimes, one side overreaches — as Mr Vaze, either alone or with top-level sanction, did in this case. And that is when citizens learn of the utter mockery of the rule of the law in the city. Mumbai’s citizens deserve better. Police reforms would be a start.