‘Minister log mere peeche aur police log mere jeb mein rehte hai” (Ministers follow me and the police is in my pocket)
The Hindi film industry has a unique way at times of staying ahead of real life narratives. The above dialogue from the 2011 blockbuster ‘Singham’ pits the villainous don against an honest inspector, Bajirao Singham and forces the latter to famously retort in anger: ‘’Aata majhi satakli!” (loosely translated from Marathi to mean, ‘Now, I have lost it!)
Watching the political developments in Maharashtra over the last few days, any right-thinking citizen may well be prompted to echo inspector Singham’s memorable one-liner in sheer frustration. After all, when both the political and police leadership are caught in a web of egregious lies, deceit and possible criminality, it makes one wonder whether law-makers and law-enforcers have abandoned any notion of public service but instead become partners in a cash and carry private enterprise.
How else is one to interpret the unprecedented war of words between the Maharashtra home minister, Anil Deshmukh and the ex Mumbai police commissioner, Parambir Singh? The commissioner soon after being transferred suddenly accuses the minister of seeking a ‘vasooli’ (bribe) of Rs 100 crore per month from Sachin Vaze, an assistant police inspector, now arrested in the Ambani bomb scare case. The home minister, in turn, claims that the police commissioner is only trying to protect himself from being implicated in the same case in which one person, Mansukh Hiran, has been found dead. Amidst the allegations and counter-allegations, here is the inconvenient truth: the chickens have come home to roost and Maharashtra’s, and dare one say, India’s politician-police nexus has been laid bare.
A few years ago, a senior Maharashtra police officer Sanjay Pandey admitted as much during actor Aamir Khan’s popular ‘Satyamev Jayate’ tv show while alluding to an ‘organised, institutionalised settlement’ system by which dance bars and restaurants in Mumbai had to pay a monthly ‘hafta’ or fixed fee to the local police and their superiors. This is precisely what the former Mumbai police commissioner Parambir Singh has claimed in his letter accusing the home minister, Anil Deshmukh of fixing a Rs 100 crore monthly ‘target’. Mr Singh became Mumbai police commissioner in February 2020 and yet it is only 13 months later when he is transferred to the home guards department that he decides to turn a conscientious whistle-blower. And the minister too only now thinks it fit to question the former Mumbai top cop’s integrity after having unreservedly backed him during several major investigations in the last year.
Which is why the words of neither Deshmukh nor Singh can be taken at face value. Mr Deshmukh is a five time legislator while Mr Singh is one of the seniormost police officers in Maharashtra. Neither can claim to have been unaware of the implications of their actions. Which is also why it is time to end the charade of self-righteous indignation that is being played out by the ruling elite in Maharashtra. If a police commissioner had not been transferred, it is more than likely that he wouldn’t have said a word. If Mansukh Hiran’s body had not been found at Thane creek, it is possible that the Ambani bomb case would have died a natural death and Vaze would still be calling the shots. And if former Maharashtra chief minister and BJP leader, Devendra Fadnavis didn’t have access to confidential documents, maybe the Shiv Sena-led government could simply brazen it out.
Nor can Uddhav Thackeray or Sharad Pawar distance themselves from the murkiness of this episode. After all, Vaze, once glamourised as an ‘encounter’ specialist, joined the Sena after being suspended in a fake encounter case. What was the compulsion to reinstate him in 2020 when the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) came to power but for the fact that he was widely seen as a ‘Shiv Sainik in uniform’? And can a hands-on, veteran politician like Mr Pawar who has towered over Maharashtra politics for almost half a century claim that he was unaware of what his NCP home minister might have been upto?
And while Mr Fadnavis as opposition leader can legitimately claim to have put the Maharashtra government on the backfoot, don’t forget that he too presided over the same ‘system’ when he was the chief minister for five years in partnership with the Sena. Will anyone seriously believe that the politician-policeman nexus only surfaced in November 2019 when the MVA government came to power? Indeed, can any state government claim to have made a genuine attempt to implement the police reforms recommended by the Supreme Court in the 2006 Prakash Singh case? At the core of those reforms is the urgent need to insulate the police from political pressures, be it in transfers or investigations. But neither the union home ministry in the Manmohan Singh UPA years nor the Modi government now have chosen to prioritize police reforms.
But why would any government bite the hand that feeds them? The fact is, whether it is the alleged extortion racket or the lucrative ‘transfer-posting’ industry, an increasingly corrupted politician-police culture has corroded and enfeebled institutional structures to the point where the lines between right and wrong have long since been blurred. It isn’t just the street constable who seeks a bribe with impunity: the chain it appears extends from the station house officers to shockingly even IPS officers and their political bosses. That even senior IPS officers stand accused of ‘lobbying’ for profitable posts reveals just how deeply entrenched interests have compromised the police hierarchy.
Which is why heads must roll in Maharashtra and any inquiry must go well beyond the usual political score-settling. Let the guilty be identified and given exemplary punishment. To protect the trustworthy police officers and yes, the upright politician too, the chain of fraudulence must be broken. Else every furious citizen will be entitled to scream: ‘’Aata majhi satakli’!
Post-script: Some of the goings-on in Maharashtra would almost be comical if they were not so tragic (remember, the state has by far the highest number of active Covid 19 cases and a number of beat policemen have lost their lives in the pandemic). Take for example the suggestion by Mr Pawar that 92 year old former Mumbai police commissioner Julio Ribeiro be asked to probe the allegations. Mr Ribeiro has rightly pointed out that he is hardly at an age where he can now be lead investigator. But the very fact that a nonagenarian is considered as most apt for the task reveals the deep credibility crisis that confronts an entire generation of those in khakhi and khadi.