Rajat Sharma

A minister tells his police: “Go and collect Rs 100 crore”

akb3009We are today witnessing a sea change in governance. There was a time when underworld gangs used to extort money and Mumbai police used to catch the extortionists. Now, police officers are assigned to carry out extortions and send the money to the minister. Earlier, terrorists used to plant bombs and police used to catch terrorists. Now a police officer plants bomb to scare the nation’s topmost industrialist.

A letter written by former Mumbai Police chief Parambir Singh has let out a cat among the pigeons inside the Mantralaya. Comments from Shiv Sena leaders indicate that they are defending Parambir Singh and they want the Home Minister Anil Deshmukh to quit. On the other hand, comments from NCP leaders indicate are defending Anil Deshmukh and they want to trap the ex-police chief.

One positive outcome from this confrontation between Shiv Sena and NCP is that extortions made by Mumbai Police from restaurant and bar owners have now been exposed by none other than the city police chief. It is now public knowledge how top political leaders use the police, both as an instrument and a weapon. They use police as an instrument for carrying out extortion, and as a weapon to intimidate people. The latest example of this unbridled terror is the case of intimidating the nation’s top industrialist Mukesh Ambani.

By opening up the can of worms, ex-police chief Parambir Singh has indirectly exposed the motive behind parking of a vehicle laden with explosives outside’s Mukesh Ambani’s residence. The letter written by the former Mumbai police commissioner to the Chief Minister clearly exposes how the Home Minister was using an assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze to carry out extortions.

It is now clear that Sachin Vaze, drunk with the heady alcohol of power derived from political patronage, was out to extort a huge sum of money from Mukesh Ambani. The act of parking a vehicle, filled with gelatin sticks, outside Ambani’s residence, with a threatening letter left inside, was meant to terrorize the industrialist. As I had earlier written, Sachin Vaze was an actor, and it is now clear that the producer director was none other than the Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. If the motive was to extort big money from Mukesh Ambani, this will go down in the annals of India’s crime history as one of the biggest extortion cases.

Till now, we, the common people, only suspected that some ministers in Maharashtra may have been extorting money and police are accustomed to doing ‘hafta vasooli’ (weekly extortion), but these were mere assumptions. There were no evidences. But now the former police chief of Mumbai has given in writing that the Home Minister used to call his officers and gave them a “target” of collecting Rs 100 crore every month. According to this letter, the minister used to explain police officers the modus operandi of collecting money from bar and restaurant owners. It appears as if Anil Deshmukh is an expert in such matters and he feared nobody. He was brazenly telling police officers to carry out extortions. Since the police commissioner (Paramabir Singh) was not close to him, he went over his head to instruct other police officers directly. For Anil Deshmukh, Mumbai Police was his ‘jaagir’ (property) and he was acting like an emperor, drunk with power. Had he not commented on Parambir Singh’s transfer, this extortion would have continued in Mumbai, unabated.

When the National Investigation Agency (NIA) found that it was Sachin Vaze who had planted the car laden with explosives outside Mukesh Ambani’s residence, and there were evidences of at least five vehicles connected with Vaze used in this case of scaring Ambani, and Vaze tried to remove evidences, the Home Minister felt that the image of Mumbai Police has been sullied. He took this as an opportunity to shunt out the Police Commissioner, and went on to tell the media that it was not a routine transfer, and that Paramabir Singh “had committed unpardonable mistakes”. This got the goat of the ex-police chief and he decided to expose the Home Minister. Parambir Singh wrote a letter to the Chief Minister and pointedly mention that he had complained about Deshmukh to both chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar in the past.

This is not an issue between Parambir Singh and Deshmukh only. It is a wider issue, about who will gain control of Mumbai Police: Shiv Sena or NCP? The issue relates to who will get the power to extort money by using the police. The confrontation is now leading towards Uddhav Thackeray versus Sharad Pawar.

The most tragic part of this sordid episode is that nobody is bothered about the people who are suffering because of rampant extortions. Nobody is speaking about the owners of bars and restaurants who have to shell out money from their earnings. Their only responsibility is: shell out the money. It does not matter who gets the money at the highest level. These bar and restaurant owners are helpless in front of police. For them, it does not matter the least, whether the Home Minister or Police Commissioner is changed. Pay they must.

Ultimately, it is the people, who will have to decide. They will exercise their right to vote at the time of elections and punish the corrupt. People today in Maharashtra are sad and unhappy with both the Shiv Sena and its leader Uddhav Thackeray. They are waiting for the right time. Parambir Singh has shown courage. No other senior police officer had ever done what Parambir Singh did, in the history of Maharashtra politics.

It’s possible, Paramabir may have to pay for this but his act will surely deter the ‘extortionists’. Let us hope that a Home Minister or a Chief Minister will now fear before ordering collection of extortion money. The media will now be more alert. More police officers may now muster the courage to speak. If this episode results in reduction in cases of extortion, we should thank Paramabir Singh for that. The ex-police chief must also remember: Others may try to intimidate him, anything can happen, but such a moment is not going to come again, he must carry on, with courage, come what may.

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