Mumbai’s police-politics-crime nexus
The Wankhede-Aryan-Malik story is one that blurs the lines between crime, policing, and politics. Mumbai’s worst kept secrets have come tumbling out
Tamasha” is a renowned Maharashtra folk dance tradition that literally means fun-filled entertainment. The last few months have seen a political tamasha playing out in Maharashtra which would be almost farcical if it was only not so disgustingly immoral.
A top cop gone “missing”; a former home minister accused of extortion arrested; a narcotics control official, who arrested the son of one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, now under probe; a deputy chief minister (CM)’s properties under the scanner; a state minister lining up daily “exposés” in his own parallel investigation; a former CM and his wife dragged into a snake-pit of vendetta politics. In this bizarre whirl of smear and shame, the lines between crime, policing, and politics are blurred.
Take the curious case of Sameer Wankhede — the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer deputed as Mumbai’s key drug-buster. Over the years, the smooth-talking Wankhede has built up a reputation for taking on Mumbai’s rich and famous. His critics accuse him of harassing the glamour world as part of a well-oiled extortion racket, while his supporters credit him with putting the rule of law above VVIP status.
The latest controversy sparked off by the dramatic arrest of megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s son, Aryan Khan, in a cruise ship drug raid, has further polarised public opinion because leading the charge against Wankhede is Nawab Malik — a pugnacious Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) minister, accused of having underworld links himself.
When Malik produces documents accusing Wankhede of fraud and extortion, his role as a ministerial authority is seen to get entangled with a personal crusade against an officer who once arrested his son-in-law.
As a result, matters which should play out in a court of law are reduced to a never-ending media circus. Accused of faking a caste certificate to get entry into the IRS, Wankhede petitioned the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Commission alleging harassment of a Dalit officer. With a “Muslim” minister — one of the few left in an increasingly majoritarian political ecosystem — 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 such as the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) — which is meant to handle international and interstate drug network connections — be looking out for a few grams of ganja (weed) on a cruise ship? Why must investigations be carried out in full media glare with a dubious list of witnesses? Where does an IRS officer get the funds to lead what is, by all accounts, a rather opulent lifestyle? And why is the story of a 3,000 kg heroin haul at the Adani-operated Mundra port so easily buried, while a superstar’s son’s alleged tryst with a few grams of drugs is a national obsession?
Perhaps when due process is routinely subverted, then it becomes almost impossible to separate truth from fiction.
The same is the case with Parambir Singh, the police officer in hiding. Singh is an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer who, like Wankhede, is seen to have revelled 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 an explosives-laden Scorpio car was found near the home 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 ₹100 crore as vasooli from officers, he only further exposed the rot within: The men in khaki were not just accomplices of the netas, but partners in crime.
Today, Singh, who is wanted by both the Mumbai police and the National Investigation Agency, has reportedly disappeared, a scandalous escape if true. How could the entire might of the police force, both in the state and at the Centre, allow an officer to just “disappear”? Unless, if the word on the streets of Mumbai is true, this is a well-connected police officer who just knows too much. This might explain why the Maharashtra government has been so tight-lipped about an unprecedented turn of events that has brought further embarrassment to an embattled ruling coalition in Mumbai.
The 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 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can “sleep soundly”, admitted a former Congress Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) recently — Mumbai’s worst kept secrets have come tumbling out.
In 1993, the Vohra Commission report submitted by a former home secretary pointed to the well-entrenched nexus of criminals, politicians, and government officials. Viewed in 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 corrupt 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 anyone act when the truth could be inconvenient to all?
Postscript: In Mumbai’s film buzz, there is speculation that Wankhede wants a biopic made about 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 cinematic fame, and then, notoriety. Some of them have since been in and out of jail. In Mumbai’s crazed whirl, kuch bhi ho sakta hai (anything is possible)!
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author
The views expressed are personal