What is surprising is that the MVA leaders knew of Param Bir Singh’s proximity with the BJP and more so, Sachin Vaze’s with the Sena and yet, the duo was given a free hand.
The entire business, starting with Mansukh Hiran’s car disappearing to his body being found in Thane creek, to Sachin Vaze trying to go incognito and placing gelatine sticks outside Antilia is exquisitely stinky – a plot that perfectly plunged the nadir. And instead of asking questions, the media has begun focusing on personalities and their exploits. Until it became political, thanks to an ousted Chief Minister who wants to prove himself prophetic: “Me punha yein”. (I’ll be back). The fact is Devendra Fadnavis jumped the gun, not doing due diligence and failing to corroborate his claims with dates. Worse still, the gheesa-peeta ploy of collecting extortion money from bars was used by Param Bir Singh, the recently transferred Commissioner of Police.
Singh is extremely ambitious, no doubt, and has cosied up to politicians and media barons galore. He is smart and has used his contacts well, since the beginning. He may not have expected to see such an end to his career, having become so big. What surprises me is that veteran politician Sharad Pawar, who knows Singh rather well, has been aware that he had got close to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Devendra Fadnavis. Now, more dirty secrets are tumbling out of police closets. Rashmi Shukla, another IPS officer who is reportedly seen to be close to the BJP, had been snooping on politicians in the Maha Vikas Agadhi government. She intercepted their calls and a lot of this data Fadnavis claims, is with him and he now seeks a probe. Now this entire case is twisted, become the Union government versus the MVA government, with Uddhav Thackeray as the specific target.
What is surprising is that the MVA leaders knew of Param Bir Singh’s proximity with the BJP and more so, Sachin Vaze’s with the Sena and yet, the duo was given a free hand. More so, after the way Singh handled the Elgar Parishad and Bhima Koregaon cases and arrested the activists at the behest of the BJP government, how was he made the Mumbai top cop? These are the bitter truths staring MVA leaders in the face, even though Fadnavis does come across as a sore loser who is desperate for power. Or is someone from within the MVA feeding him information? Very soon, we will hear how all the evidence has been destroyed in this case and after a few weeks inside jail, Vaze will be released unlike the activists and scholars languishing in jail.
Mumbai’s encounter specialists
When I started as a journalist in the 90s as a broadcast journalist, the fun was in understating how things worked. Television news, with the ubiquitous, humongous cameras around, was an annoying novelty and was tough. It was hardest to convince the police, but the minute Mumbai Police grasped the power of television news, within minutes of any crime, we would be informed, believe it or not. There were always cop coteries, much like editors and their cronies. But the senior ones, who realised the importance of television, would be more forthcoming with news and tips. One among them was Param Bir Singh. Accessible and ready with information and a bright one of the IPS officers who wanted to ‘cleanse’ Mumbai city of the underworld gangs. On a daily basis, there was a shoot-out and of course, encounters. I have covered numerous assignments involving bullet-ridden bodies and bloody messes around Mumbai. Covering Mumbai Police always reminds me of the scene in Maqbool, where Naseeruddin Shah is playing board games with his work brethren. The way one is finished for another is exactly how the underworld gangs were nearly finished.
At that time, Arun Gawli was the main target, among others. He had grown too formidable for police. At that time, Param Bir Singh who was with Agripada Police was keen on busting this don’s bastion. He tried a few times and every time Gawli and his legal team would ensure he got bail. This time, it was different. Singh had approached our television news organisation, a leading one, with the idea of a female reporter being sent inside and his team to follow. Later we heard he managed it through a newspaper reportedly, though the female reporter sent for coverage was innocent and unprepared as she was assaulted by Gawli’s goons.
But this soon marked the beginning of many problems for Gawli. Yes, finally as a reporter being there before others, capturing the scene of the encounter cops and Param Bir Singh dragging out Gawli in front of all the chawl members was straight out of a film. The incident sent ripples through Agripada and for the first time, we did not see women banging vessels (yes, in those days, vessels were banged for other reasons) or people swearing all-night dharnas. From then on, the don had begun losing his grip. By the time he was out on bail, another more devious plot was embarked upon, with police now bringing on Vijay Salaskar and others on board.
It was much later that my colleague shared with me Param Bir Singh’s dubious idea to send me inside. Long after this, the entire encounter specialist gang’s dubious exploits brought me up against the police when covering the Khwaja Yunus case. A young techie who was killed in custody in 2003, his parents moved the Bombay high court over the death of their son. The CID filed a complaint against four policemen, including protégé of Param Bir Singh, Sachin Vaze. From covering up the custodial death to putting up the predictable escape drama to not cooperating with the special public prosecutor in the Bombay high court. During all these times, police received political patronage, be it the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Bharatiya Janata Party or the Shiv Sena. Vaze was suspended for 16 years and was reinstated at the behest of Singh. In the interim period he had joined the Sena as a spokesperson. None of this was a secret from the other two parties in the MVA alliance. Gawli was openly supported by the late Mohan Rawale, a Sena Member of Parliament, who even held a dharna after Gawli’s detention.
Most of the ‘encounter specialist gang’ in the police force has political patronage, just as it is whispered, the underworld too has received. This is a convenient cover-up for mediocre investigation and blame games as police always told us, the media, that the court throws out cases filed against the underworld criminals for lack of evidence. That was a fact. Even if the government brought in strict laws like the MCOCA, the fact is: till the time the encounter killings received political support, police, instead of meticulously getting the evidence, had sadly infiltrated the gangs and were working like contract killers. It was putting one gang against the other, with huge amounts of money involved, of course. There is no doubt haftas in the police system exist in India and pathetically continue, till today. And there is no sign the department has developed any finesse over the years, to make it look like it has improved.
Be it the Congress, the NCP, the BJP or the Sena, all have allowed this hafta collection. The dance bars were one such big source. Mumbai Police knew which gangster had invested money in which dance bar. In fact, there were policemen and media people too, who had stakes in these. Money was collected from these establishments and after the late R R Patil stopped it, many a pocket became lighter. For police, there were other means, without a doubt. There is a hierarchy and cuts of percentage in every sector, so it is not like Param Bir Singh was like an Alice in Wonderland. He has risen through the hierarchy and the ranks, so as a CP, he had all the powers to stop it. Also, while he spoke of this alleged extortion, why did he choose to leave out the money required to be paid for a plum posting? Or is it all on merit? Hope he has added that in his Supreme Court petition.
Bhima Koregaon and Elgar Parishad
The last image of Param Bir Singh as Additional Director General Law and Order would be the day he called for a grand press conference in the DG office to ‘reveal’ a huge expose against the activists and scholars arrested from across the country in the Elgar Parishad and Bhima Koregaon riots cases. In fact, Singh flashed many a document claimed to be printouts of emails between the arrested activists. In fact, Singh faced flak from a Bombay High Court bench of Justices SS Shinde and Mridula Bhatkar, who questioned how the police could read out such documents which were to be used as evidence in the case in future. Later on, one of the witnesses in this case, Sanjay Bhalerao, filed a petition against Singh for sharing details of the evidence.
The fact that police planted false evidence as was recently revealed by Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm that examined the electronic copy of the laptop at the request of Rona Wilson’s lawyers. These activists and scholars were arrested for plotting to overthrow the Narendra Modi government, democratically. Police were accused of playing evidence since in the press conference Singh flashed some printed copies of alleged email communication between activists of a conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister. Just this week, Father Stan Swamy’s bail was rejected by the NIA court.
Now, there will be a merry-go-round of allegations and making it out to be a case of the BJP versus the MVA. It would be better if the excesses of Vaze are made clearer and also, how was he supported by Param Bir Singh. Meanwhile, with Singh’s allegations against Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, yet another IPS officer, Meeran Borwankar, has spoken about the credibility crisis in the police force.
Moreover, Singh claimed police reforms were not being implemented. The question needs to be asked who is resisting? Are police open to real reforms or arbitrary tokenism? There are new lows being faced by the police force and it is time these Augean stables are cleansed. But the question remains: Who will take the lead?