‘Tamasha’ is a great Maharashtra folk dance tradition that literally means ‘fun’ and ‘entertainment’. In the last few months, a political ‘tamasha’ is playing out in Maharashtra which would be almost farcical if it were not so disgustingly immoral. Allegations are flying thick and fast: from drugs to underworld links and from extortion rackets to benami transactions, its open season in Maharashtra’s tryst with crime and politics. A Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) officer who arrests the son of one of Hindi cinema’s biggest ever stars is now himself being investigated for fraud and extortion. A former Mumbai police commissioner is ‘untraceable’ since May this year according to the Mumbai Crime Branch and a non-bailable warrant has been issued. The former home minister who the absconding police commissioner accused of ‘vasooli’ (extortion) is arrested after evading Enforcement Directorate summons for months. The deputy chief minister’s alleged benami properties worth more than a 1000 crores have been attached. A former chief minister and his wife are also caught in a snake-pit of hit and run vendetta politics. A bizarre game of smear and shame is being enacted where the lines between crime, policing and politicians are totally blurred.
Take the curious case of Samir Wankhede, the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer deputed as Mumbai’s key drug-buster last year. Over the years, the smooth talking Wankhede has built a reputation of taking on Mumbai’s rich and famous. Ever since the NCB intervened last year in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, arrested Sushant’s girlfriend Rhea Chakrabarty and hauled up a number of stars to appear before it, Wankhede has routinely made the headlines. His critics accuse him of harassing the glamour world as part of a well-oiled extortion racket while his supporters credit him with putting rule of law above VVIP status.
The latest controversy has further polarized public opinion because leading the charge against Wankhede is Nawab Malik, a plain-speaking NCP minister in the ruling coalition arrangement and one of the few prominent Muslim political faces left in a political eco-system which is increasingly majoritarian. When Malik produces documents accusing Wankhede of fraud and extortion, he isn’t as much taking an anti corruption stand as being accused of carrying out a personal crusade against an officer who arrested his son-in-law. Matters which should play out in a court of law are now being reduced to a media circus where the joke seems to be on the ordinary citizen. Instead of addressing the specific charge of faking a caste certificate to get entry into the IRS, Wankhede has petitioned the SC/ST commission against alleged harassment of a Dalit officer. A ‘Muslim’ minister taking on a ‘Dalit’ investigator, the battle-lines are being drawn in a manner that threatens to blow up into an ominous caste-communal inferno.
Lost in the fiery war of words are the ‘real’ questions that remain unaddressed. Should an agency like the NCB which is meant to handle international and inter-state drug network connections be now looking out for a few grams of ganja on a cruise ship? Why must investigations be carried out in full media glare with a dubious list of witnesses and where the urge to appear before a tv camera seems to overwhelm the need for a rigorous probe? Where does an IRS officer get the funds to lead what is by all accounts a rather opulent lifestyle? Why should a minister be carrying out a parallel investigation into a high profile probe officer when he could just as easily be approaching a court? And why is the story of a 3000 kg heroin haul at the Adani-operated Mundra port so easily buried while a star-son’s alleged tryst with a few grams of drugs is a national obsession? Perhaps when due process is subverted at all times, then it becomes almost impossible to separate truth from fiction.
Ditto the case with Parambir Singh, the police officer in hiding. Singh is an IPS officer who, like Wankhede, is seen to have reveled in Mumbai’s bright lights. As Mumbai police commissioner, Singh was holding a prize post reserved for the cadre’s best and brightest. He appeared to be the Maharashtra government’s chosen one until the Antilla car bomb case, where a Scorpio car with gelatin explosives found outside the house of the country’s richest business magnate, exposed the seamier side of the city’s crime-police nexus. When within days of being removed from the top police post, Singh accused the state home minister Anil Deshmukh of demanding a monthly Rs 100 crores as ‘vasooli’, he only further exposed the rot within: the men in khakhi were not just accomplices of the netas but partners in crime.
Today, Singh has reportedly disappeared, a scandalous escape if true. This is a top cop on the run who is wanted by both the Mumbai police and the National Investigation Agency. How could the entire might of the police force, both at the state and Centre have allowed an officer to just ‘disappear’? Unless, as the buzz on the Mumbai street is, this is a police officer who just knows too much. And while Deshmukh’s multiple attempts to evade arrest have failed, the Maharashtra government pretends as if all is well. The same Nawab Malik who produces daily documents to nail Wankhede doesn’t have a word to say about the sinful behavior of his senior NCP colleague.
Truth is, in a politically surcharged atmosphere with several ministers and legislators being investigated for various acts of alleged corruption – only those who have joined the BJP can ‘sleep soundly’ admitted a former Congress MLA recently — Mumbai’s worst kept secrets have come tumbling out. The gleaming city of gold co-exists with a metropolis of grime where law enforcement agencies have been thoroughly compromised by the high stakes involved.
In a sense, the chickens have come home to roost. In 1993, the Vohra commission report was submitted by a former home secretary and it pointed to the well-entrenched nexus of criminals, politicians and government officials. Brought out against the backdrop of the 1993 Mumbai blasts and the role of the underworld and the Dawood Ibrahim gang in particular, the report was a grave indictment of a corrupted ‘syndicate’ of the powerful. Sadly, the Vohra report has gathered dust, with the entire findings yet to be made public despite assurances given by different governments. Why will they when the truth could be inconvenient to all?
Post-script: In Mumbai’s film whirl, there is speculation that Wankhede wants a biopic made around his life story. If an IRS officer believes that he is now a larger than life character worth depicting on celluloid, why blame him? Twenty years ago, Mumbai’s encounter cops too acquired instant fame and then notoriety. Some of them have since been in and out of jail. As the classic film song goes: ‘Ganda hai par dhandha hai.”