Rajat Sharma

Rs 100 crore collection: The heat of CBI probe is bound to reach Uddhav Thackeray

akbIt was nothing less than a storm in Maharashtra politics. There were straws in the wind about the impending storm. Central Bureau of Investigation will now probe graft allegations against Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, on the order of Bombay High Court. If any prima facie evidence is found about the allegation against the minister, for having demanded Rs 100 crore extortion, the CBI will have to file an FIR.

The first ripple effect was that the minister was forced to resign. His party supremo Sharad Pawar asked him to put in his papers, and chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had to forward his resignation to the Governor. On Monday, Bombay High Court directed the CBI to start a preliminary inquiry into “allegations of corrupt malpractices” made by former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh against the minister. The former police chief had filed a PIL in the High Court accusing the minister of malpractices.

The High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, in their order, said, “Deshmukh is the Home Minister. The police department is under his control and direction. ..There can be no fair, impartial, unbiased and untainted probe, if the same were entrusted to the state police force. As of necessity, the probe has to be entrusted to an independent agency like the CBI…interests of justice will be served if there is a CBI preliminary inquiry into the complaint.”

There was no other way out for Anil Deshmukh, except to resign. Though Deshmukh wrote in his resignation letter that he was quitting “on moral grounds”, it appears as if his moral conscience was aroused after a long delay.

Deshmukh should have ordered an inquiry soon after the former police chief made the allegations in his detailed letter to the Chief Minister. In this letter, Param Bir Singh had clearly alleged in Point 7 that the Home Minister had frequently called Crime Intelligence Unit chief Sachin Vaze to his residence and gave him a target of collecting Rs 100 crore every month from 1,750 restaurants and bars in Mumbai. At Point 9, Param Bir Singh had written that the Home Minister called ACP Social Service Branch Sanjay Patil and DCP Bhujbal to his home, and spoke fo collecting money from restaurants and bars.

It is surprising how Deshmukh continued to remain as Home Minister despite the allegations being made public. The complainant was none other than the Mumbai Police commissioner Parambir Singh, a senior IPS officer. Singh had alleged that he had informed the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar about this.

Even now, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is silent on this ‘collection’ charge, but once the CBI starts its probe into the allegations, the heat may reach the chief minister, too. Already, the BJP has started pressing its demand. On Monday, soon after the High Court order, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai and Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in Delhi demanded that chief minister Uddhav Thackeray should resign. Prasad questioned why Anil Deshmukh gave his letter of resignation to his party chief Sharad Pawar, who forwarded it to the chief minister. Why this drama, he asked.

The Law Minister said, the matter does not end with Deshmukh’s exit. “The entire extortion racket has to be unravelled. We must know who were the final recipients of ‘collection money’? Fadnavis demanded that the chief minister must break his silence on this issue. He said, the chief minister could have saved himself, had he taken Deshmukh’s resignation, when the allegations were first made. Fadnavis indicated that there were more ‘political explosions’ coming.

Just imagine, if assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze had not abanadoned a car carrying gelatine sticks outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence, if Vaze not become an accused in Mansukh Hiren’s murder case, Param Bir Singh would have continued as Mumbai Police chief, and the allegation that the Home Minister had asked for Rs 100 crore collection from restaurant and bar owners would not have surfaced. Everything would have been hunky dory. The ‘collections’ from restaurant and bar owners by police would have continued unabated and no one would have been wiser.

Nobody can forget how chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had defended Sachin Vaze in the assembly. Nobody can forget how Sharad Pawar tried to defend his Home Minister in public. The top political leaders were trying to protect each other and were trying to hush up the matter. Both Uddhav Thackeray and Pawar’s party are in a coalition government, but when such a can of worms opens up, there is a certain limit up to which a leader can protect the other.

There is full possibility of the heat of CBI probe against Anil Deshmukh reaching the chief minister, because the ex-police chief had claimed that he had given detailed information about this to Uddhav Thackeray. But the chief minister did not act on his information. Uddhav Thackeray now faces a crucial political challenge to his authority. It remains to be seen how he handles this challenge.

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