In the heart of Mumbai, a corrupt nexus
Towards the end of the third century, bribery and abuse of power were so rampant in the Roman empire that those assigned by the emperor to check corruption started running their own protection rackets. Centuries later, the glittering metropolis of Mumbai is witness to the same sordid tale of unscrupulous politicians colluding with the unscrupulous elements in the police to run an extremely profitable extortion regime.
The Scorpio found near the Ambani residence on February 25 was planted with gelatin sticks and a letter, but without a detonator. To a security professional, it was an act of extortion, without the terror angle. It was meant to intimidate the victim, arouse fear and submission. Word travels fast in the Mumbai dark underbelly and a central question immediately began doing the rounds — who is the ultimate boss to pay obeisance to?
Is it possible that Sachin Vaze was allegedly the sole culprit behind this heinous act? As an ordinary senior sub-inspector, he had direct access to the police commissioner. He was also in touch with ministers, including the home minister. While facts may soon come out, it is apparent that Vaze’s alleged villainy had the sanction of the higher brass of police and the political establishment. He is been named as the main accused in the murder of the owner of the infamous Scorpio vehicle. The sheer brazenness of the crime has astounded common citizens.
As the murky happenings come to light, the political brass has distanced itself, transferring the police commissioner and attributing the episode to police lapses. But the truth has a way of coming out. Now that the ex-police commissioner, Param Vir Singh, has squarely blamed the state home minister for setting extortion targets to the known encounter specialist Vaze, political bosses are doing the indefensible — shielding the minister and shooting the messenger.
This is not to absolve the police leadership, which had cosied up with Vaze for quite a while till now. The alacrity with which the Televison Rating Points (TRP) case was taken up by Mumbai Police, naming Vaze as the chief investigator, hinted at personal vendetta. Arresting a TV anchor did not call for an encounter specialist. Additionally, in February, the police commissioner was acquainted with the home minister’s directions to Vaze. He should have come clean right then and may be the ham-handed attempt at extortion would have been prevented.
Inducting Vaze into the police is another tale of blatant favouritism and craven submission of the babus and police leadership to the political executive. It was a committee, comprising senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, which recommended his reinstatement, with quick approval given by the political bosses. This was done in the name of shoring up police strength during the Covid-19 crisis. A suspended policeman, a murder accused, a political worker — all such inconvenient facts about Vaze were set aside. And then despite his induction for a certain stated purpose, why was he not used for Covid-19 duties? Many brave policemen died on Covid-19 duties, while Vaze grazed on greener pastures.
Singh has been removed to facilitate an impartial probe, but party colleagues are protecting the home minister against whom serious allegations have been made, by no less than a senior IPS officer. The minister allegedly called junior officers for consultations, gave directions on investigations, and asked for extorting money from bars and restaurants. The minister has virtually breached all barriers of integrity and violated the oath of high office and should resign or be dismissed, pending a thorough enquiry.
But the incident is reflective of a deeper crisis. No political party can afford to let go of Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, the city of dreams and mafia dons. Maharashtra is a money-minting factory for political funding in India’s electoral politics, cutting across all political lines, and Mumbai is its most productive core. According to recently published National Crime Records Bureau data, Maharashtra has topped in corruption cases for the fourth year in a row. Election after election, leader after leader, Mumbaikars have had to live with the police-politician-mafia nexus.
Mumbai’s extortion case has put some politicians and policemen on tenterhooks. Once Vaze spills the beans, it will confirm our worst fears — of an enduring collusion ie politico-police-mafia nexus. An ordinary citizen can only watch helplessly while the drama unfolds, hoping for a drastic overhaul of the police set-up and political establishment. But in a country where grassroots politics is run through police thanas and tehsils, which political party will let go its firm grip on public institutions, and that too in Mumbai? The signs aren’t encouraging. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after seven years in power, lamented over the power of IAS and administrative reform in the Parliament, while the Supreme Court has been expressing anguish over police reforms for the last 15 years.
Only a court directed investigation into the sordid affair will restore the faith of citizens and, in the meanwhile, we desperately need another Julio Ribeiro to helm the Mumbai Police.
Yashovardhan Azad is a former IPS officer, who served as Central Information Commissioner and special director, Intelligence Bureau
The views expressed are personal