Allies meet amid political turmoil in Maharashtra over former Mumbai police chief’s “serious” allegations
Geetanjali Minhas | March 21, 2021 | Mumbai
Amid political turmoil in Maharashtra over allegations made by the former Mumbai police chief, the ruling coalition allies met NCP chief Sharad Pawar late Sunday, leaving the fate of home minister Anil Deshmukh to in his hands.
Former Mumbai police commissioner Parambir Singhs in a letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray three days after he was transferred as DG, Home Guards, has shaken the MVA government. The crisis has been unfolding since a car with explosives was found near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s home, Antilia, at Altamount Road in south Mumbai. Singh has accused Deshmukh of corruption, malpractices and political interference.
Pawar told media in Delhi earlier in the day that the allegations were “serious” in nature, but also added that the timing of the allegations has to be looked into. “Why Now? These allegations have been made after Singh’s transfer to the home guard department.”
He also said that the officer at the centre of the controversy, Sachin Vaze (who now has now been arrested by NIA in the Antilia bomb case and the death of businessman Mansukh Hiran), was reinstated after after 16 years of suspension by Singh and not Deshmukh or the chief minister.
Pawar also said that that retired IPS officer, Julio Ribeiro, would be the right person to investigate Singh’s claims. “Ribeiro’s credibility is such that no one can interfere or influence his investigation,” he said. (Ribeiro, however, is reported to have declined.)
The NCP chief then said it was now the chief minister call to take appropriate action. However, by evening, alliance leaders were in meeting and urged the veteran leader to decide on Deshmukh, who is from his party.
Singh on Saturday in an eight-page letter to the CM said Deshmukh had given him a target of Rs 100 crore collections per month from 1,750 pubs, restaurants, bars and hookah parlours in the city, a task which was assigned to the suspended assistant police inspector, Vaze. Singh has alleged that “bypassing him, Deshmukh called his officers directly to his official residence at Dyaneshwar for giving instructions to adopt a specific course of action in police investigations. These acts of political interference are illegal and unconstitutional and courts in our country including the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India have in the past come down heavily on such acts of interference in police investigations.”
Deshmukh Saturday said he would file a defamation case against Singh and that investigation in the bomb case were pointing to Singh’s close links with Vaze from which he was trying to escape.
The letter has created a political crisis for the three-party ruling alliance and their leaders were reacting in different voices. The Sena has been supporting Vaze and also praised Singh for his work in Dharavi during Covid-19 and the handling of the TRP scam. Deshmukh has accused Singh and Mumbai police of unpardonable mistakes.
Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress said Pawar is the architect of the ruling coalition. “Is it what the so-called third front is going to do finally? Congress must take a stand on this,” he said.
Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Sachin Sawant said that BJP had conspired against the MVA government by putting officials under pressure from central agencies. Singh could be under pressure from central agencies as his close aide, Vaze, is in NIA custody, he said. He wondered how BJP leaders got secret information in a planned and advanced manner. He said Singh’s letter appeared to be an afterthought. Sawant also said that a month ago Deshmukh had said that some officials were under pressure.
Opposition leaders have been calling for removing Deshmukh for a fair probe into allegations and alleged the MVA government was corrupt. Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “We demand the home minister's resignation. If he doesn't, then chief minister Thackeray must remove him. An impartial probe must be conducted. The letter also says the chief minister was informed about this earlier, so why didn't he act on it?”
Raj Thackeray of MNS said Singh's letter is explosive and very damaging for Maharashtra's image. He said Deshmukh needs to immediately submit his resignation and a thorough investigation too needs to be made.
All top Sena, NCP and Congress leaders were in Delhi, holding a meeting with Pawar. If he decides to sack Deshmukh, reports indicate the home portfolio may go to Dilip Walse Patil, minister of labour and excise. The names of health minister Rajesh Tope and cabinet minister Jayant Patil are also being speculated for the sensitive department. Patil however has said that Deshmukh should stay and asking him to resign would only satisfy “certain” people.
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