Rajat Sharma

‘Extortion order to police’ : Maharashtra Home Minister’s role should be probed

In his press conference on Monday, Sharad Pawar produced a certificate from a Nagpur hospital which said Deshmukh was there from February 5 till 15, because of Covid-19 infection, and he was then in home quarantine from February 15 till 27. Pawar claimed that the allegation about a meeting where Deshmukh allegedly discussed “collecting Rs 100 crore” from bar owners were false. “The question of his resignation does not arise”, said the NCP supremo.

AKB30 The ongoing political drama in Maharashtra over the ‘extortion’ charge levelled against Home Minister Anil Deshmukh by the shunted Mumbai Police chief has now put the future of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition government at stake.

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, after calling for a probe into ex-police chief Parambir Singh’s charge, has now done a U-turn, and has given his Home Minister a clean chit. On Monday, the former police chief approached the Supreme Court challenging his transfer and demanded a CBI probe into the extortion charge.

The ruling BJP members rocked both Houses of Parliament on Monday demanding a CBI probe, but NCP chief Sharad Pawar is unfazed. He ruled out the Home Minister’s resignation and claimed, the minister was quarantined at his Nagpur home during the time, he was alleged to have asked police officers to collect extortion money. The Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna called Parambir Singh a “BJP pawn” who is being used to topple the coalition government.

In his press conference on Monday, Sharad Pawar produced a certificate from a Nagpur hospital which said Deshmukh was there from February 5 till 15, because of Covid-19 infection, and he was then in home quarantine from February 15 till 27. Pawar claimed that the allegation about a meeting where Deshmukh allegedly discussed “collecting Rs 100 crore” from bar owners were false. “The question of his resignation does not arise”, said the NCP supremo.

BJP leaders including former CM Devendra Fadnavis immediately tweeted to counter Pawar’s claim. They said, Deshmukh had addressed the media on February 15. Fadnavis tweeted, “It seems Sharad Pawar Ji is not briefed properly on Parambir Singh letter. In this letter only, the SMS evidence shows that the meeting date was mentioned as end of February. Now who is diverting issue?” Fadnavis added the SMS conversation between Parambir and his officers, and also retweeted Anil Deshmukh’s video posted by him on Twitter on February 15, showing he was addressing media.

On his part, Anil Deshmukh admitted that he indeed spoke to media on February 15, after coming out of hospital, and then flew to Mumbai. Pawar alleged that the allegations against Deshmukh appeared to be an attempt to disturb the probe into the “main case” about the explosives-laden vehicle outside Mukesh Ambani’s residence and the alleged murder of the vehicle owner. He said, “there are some names which need to be probed which some people may not like, and thus, allegations (of extortion) were made against Deshmukh. I don’t want the probe to be diverted.”

In his writ petition before the Supreme Court, Parambir Singh has said, “the petitioner submits that unbiased, uninfluenced, impartial and fair investigation is immediately required in the corrupt malpractices of Deshmukh before the evidence is destroyed.”

In his writ petition, Parambir Singh has said that he “was apprehending further malicious and coercive actions against him at the instance of disgruntled home minister (Anil Deshmukh) in abuse of his powers.” In the petition, Parambir Singh mentioned how he “brought the corrupt practices of Deshmukh” in the knowledge of senior leaders and chief minister. He also mentioned how “On 24th/25th August, 2020, Rashmi Shukla, Commissioner, Intelligence, state intelligence department, had brought to the notice of DGP, who in turn brought to the knowledge of Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department, “corrupt malpractices in postings/transfers by” Deshmukh “based on telephonic interception”. The petition said, ‘Shukla was shunted out rather than taking any firm action” against Deshmukh.

The entire matter has now taken a political turn. Sharad Pawar seems to be emerging as the ‘mahanayak’ (top hero), Anil Deshmukh is the ‘khalnayak’ (villain) and Devendra Fadnavis is ‘aakramak’ (aggressive).

Shiv Sena and NCP leaders allege that the Antilia case suspect Sachin Vaze was Parambir Singh’s man and the ex-police chief knew each and every act being done by Vaze. They allege that when Vaze’s name cropped up after the Antilia incident, Vaze was called to his home by the police chief.

My information is that, Parmabir Singh questioned Vaze for nearly two hours. He was repeatedly asked whether he had any role in it, and he flatly denied. Parambir called Vaze again, when the latter wrote on his WhatsApp status that he wanted to say farewell to this world. The police chief requested him not to take the extreme step, and not to write such things on social media. At that time, Vaze had a terrible headache and the police chief gave him a Dispirin tablet. Several senior police officers had implored the police chief to persuade Vaze not to take the extreme step.

I have come to know that when Vaze was arrested by NIA in the Antilia case, Parambir Singh told his close officers that Vaze kept him in the dark by telling a lie. Parambir told senior officers that he had fully trusted Vaze based on his replies, his confidence and attitude. He never expected Vaze would tell him a lie.

In his writ petition before the Supreme Court, Parambir Singh has said that he has been made a scapegoat only on the basis of speculations and conjectures. In his petition, he pointed out that in the organizational structure of Mumbai Police, there were at least five officers in the chain of command between him and Vaze. There are five Joint Commissioners in Mumbai Police, and the Antilia explosive case was looked after by Joint Commissioner, Crime. He is assisted by an Additional CP of Crime Branch. The Additional CP is assisted by a Deputy Commissioner of Police, who is in charge of Crime Detection. Under him, works an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who looks after cases of extortion, crime intelligence, properties and theft. If it is under the ACP, that Sachin Vaze headed the Crime Intelligence Unit.

In his petition, Parambir Singh has pointed out that the Home Minister bypassed five police officers, and he used to call Vaze directly. The ex-police chief has alleged that he was transferred not due to the Antilia probe, but due to some other ulterior motive. Shiv Sena and NCP are now alleging that the ex-police chief has joined hands with BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis, and his main motive is to get himself transferred on deputation to the Centre. They allege that the former police chief wrote the explosive letter to the Chief Minister, after calling on Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi. Some others have alleged that Parambir Singh wants to join politics after taking VRS, since he is now 59 years old. NCP leader and state minister Nawab Malik claims he has full details about whom Parambir Singh met during his stay in Delhi and the assurances that he has been given by some top BJP leaders.

I have checked and found that neither Parambir Singh has applied for deputation to Centre till date nor he has any plan to do so. Secondly, he has reportedly told his close friends that he would continue to work as DGP, Home Guards, and that he would not opt for VRS. Thirdly, he has said that he has not visited Delhi nor met any BJP leader recently. I have got this confirmed from my sources in government that he did not meet Amit Shah in Delhi. People close to the former police chief say, whenever somebody asks him whether he intends to join politics, he replies with a loud guffaw, and says he was neither fit for politics, nor is politics fit for a senior police officer like him.

We cannot say that both Anil Deshmukh and Parambir Singh are morally right or wrong. One of them is morally right, and the other is wrong. Hence a thorough probe is needed, the disclosures are there and the facts must come out. This unprecedented charge of extortion levelled by a police chief against his Home Minister is the first of its kind in the country. It has tarnished the image of Mumbai Police, but it is strange that a seasoned leader like Sharad Pawar, who has spent three-fourth of his life in the rough and tumble of politics, has come out in defence of his Home Minister.

I personally know Sharad Pawar for the last 45 years. In 1978, he became Maharashtra’s youngest chief minister. I have never seen Pawar so worried and uneasy, as he was on Monday at his press conference. This extortion charge levelled against his leader by a senior IPS officer, has made Pawar uneasy. Pawar is a leader who never addresses two press conferences in a span of 24 hours. Never in the past, did he show documents in defence of his party man.

On Sunday, Pawar told media that the matter should be thoroughly probed, and the following day, he gives a clean chit to his minister. On one hand, the NCP chief is defending his leader, and on the other hand, a nonplussed Chief Minister (Uddhav Thackeray) is watching the unfolding episode in silence. The ex-police chief is asking the Supreme Court to direct the CBI to take all CCTV camera footage from the home and office of the Home Minister. This will nail the lie that the minister was in home quarantine, and he did not meet any police officer.

To me, this appears to be a case, where a single reply to a question, evokes more questions. Much has already happened and is happening behind the screen, more facts are being concealed rather being placed in the open. Questions are being raised as to why the ex-police chief took such a long time to pull the skeletons out of the closet. Why was he silent so long? Did the sudden transfer made him a rebel? When Sachin Vaze was a confidante of Parambir, why didn’t he tell him about the Rs 100 crore extortion demand?

I have found that Parambir Singh knew most of the facts, but there were several other facts which could not have been in his knowledge. But Parambir Singh is firm on his extortion charge, he not only wrote the letter to the CM, but also detailed more information in his writ petition to the Supreme Court. For the embattled Thackeray government, the matter has now spilled from government files to the highest court of the land.

Politics is a perplexing, but fascinating game. It takes ages to unravel the intricate secrets that shroud the kernel of closed room politics. Today, Shiv Sena and NCP leaders are alleging that the BJP is using Parambir Singh as a pawn in a political game, it is the BJP who made the ex-police chief write the explosive letter, it is the BJP which goaded Parambir Singh to file his writ petition in Supreme Court. It is being alleged that Parambir has a Nagpur connection.

These allegations are surprising because only a month ago, Parambir Singh was the blue-eyed boy for Shiv Sena and NCP leaders. The SS mouthpiece Saamna used to write eulogies for the Mumbai Police chief. The Shiv Sena used to label him as the most honest and efficient police officer. But now, in Shiv Sena’s view, Parambir has crossed over to the BJP and he is being led by Devendra Fadnavis. From the other side, when SS and NCP leaders used to praise Parambir, BJP leaders in Maharashtra used to describe Parambir as the Chief Minister’s puppet. BJP leaders used to allege that Parambir used to slap cases against them at the behest of Shiv Sena and NCP.

Within a week, the tables have turned. SS and NCP leaders now allege that Parambir exploded the ‘letter bomb’ because his name was going to figure in the Antilia explosive case. Now the Home Minister Anil Deshmukh is looking into cases in which Parambir Singh can be nailed.

I personally feel that we should not waste our time trying to find out why Parambir Singh sent the ‘letter bomb’. Rather, the sensational charges made by the police chief in his letter must be investigated on top priority. The charge that a Home Minister is asking police officers to collect Rs 100 crore extortion money from restaurant and bar owners is a serious one. More so, when the charge is levelled by a Police Commissioner.

The truth must come out. If the charge is proved true, it does not matter who wrote the letter, when and why. It is the image of Mumbai Police that is at stake. It is the image of the city police force, that was considered the best one after London’s Scotland Yard. The probe will also put to test the credibility of Maharashtra government and the capability of Chief Minister Thackeray. The sooner we get the answers, the better.

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