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A chance to do it right

Maharashtra saga an opportunity to end the police-politician nexus for good

A chance to do it right

Accountability: The public has to start demanding answers for its own safety. PTI

Julio Ribeiro

All that is talked about these days is the lockdown and Covid that necessitated the stringent measure. But this old policeman refuses to ‘go gentle into the dark night’. The anger that sizzles because some officers of an elite service of which I was once a proud member have sunk very low makes me ‘Rage, rage against the fading of the light’. Only poet Dylan Thomas will understand what ails me, not my former colleagues, who think I should just hang up my boots and mourn!

I am reverting to the subject that I have dilated on twice already — the police, politician, criminal nexus so clearly pictured in the Anil Deshmukh-Param Bir Singh spat in Maharashtra. From all the evidence now disclosed in the Press, most pieces in the jigsaw puzzle seem to have fallen in place. Param Bir Singh was obviously chosen for the top job in the city police to help in the collection of funds for the party. He asked for the services of a suspended encounter specialist with 63 scalps under his belt to help him in the task. That request was conceded. It was not easy to reinstate an officer facing a murder charge in a court of law and who had been suspended 17 years ago! Yet, it was accomplished.

Normally, the appointing authority has the power to lift suspensions but the Police Commissioner of Mumbai had not appointed Sachin Waze. He was on the roster of the Thane police, whose cadre control was with the DGP. Since the presiding DGP at that time, Subodh Jaiswal, was made of sterner stuff, a two-member committee consisting of the ACS (Home) and CP Mumbai was set up to do the job.

The presence of the ACS meant the hand of the politician in charge, the Home Minister. Even with the politician on board, an excuse had to be concocted to justify an illegal, unethical and immoral order. That excuse was Covid. But it was summarily discarded after Waze was back in uniform. He was placed in the chair where he could indulge in his favourite pastime of amassing wealth — for himself and his benefactors.

The Pradip Sharmas and Sachin Wazes, who are now in the news, are products of the police force’s necessity for men with courage, initiative and ability to take on-the-spot decisions. Whereas such men with special qualities are sorely required, the temptations these men face soon nudge them to turn rogue. The supervisory officers can succeed in obtaining the required results only if they can rein in juniors and keep them on the straight and narrow path. That is a tall order but achievable. An appeal to self-respect and satisfaction for work well executed are useful recipes to tackle the malaise of greed. The leader needs to play his cards tactfully. Besides money, there are several other temptations on offer. If even one in the team succumbs, his ‘buddies’ will soon line up for the good life!

Sir Peter Imbert was the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police when I met him in his office at Scotland Yard. We discussed several problems that face a police chief in big metropolitan cities. Corruption in the ranks was one of them. He had a serious problem with officers chosen to work in the special units. The problem was similar to the one we faced in Mumbai. The approach to tackling the problem differed because of cultural and institutional differences. The British public, for instance, does not support human rights violations by their police, like encounter specialists are supported here by the middle class. Politicians tend to lend their support to the specialists because people are supportive of the shortcuts adopted by them.

The police in the UK enjoy operational independence. The ministers and politicians do not dictate postings and transfers, nor do they interfere in investigation of cases, even those with political flavour, like the north-east Delhi riots, for instance.

The case of Waze should open the eyes of the populace on the true nature of ‘encounter specialists’. Waze was facing trial for the murder of an under-trial prisoner charged with a terrorist crime committed in 2002. The trial has not begun, though nearly two decades have elapsed. Waze applied in 2007 for reinstatement in service. It was rejected. In 2020, he applied again and the committee facilitated the wrongdoing. On reinstatement, he reported directly to Param Bir, seven ranks his senior, ignoring the intervening supervisors who could do nothing about it because the Commissioner was Waze’s patron. Waze drove to his office in the Commissioner’s compound in a Mercedes. The register that recorded the entry and exit of all cars has mysteriously disappeared. The NIA, which is inquiring into the planting of gelatin sticks and a threat letter to the Ambanis, has fixed the crime on Waze, to whom the case was initially entrusted! It also suspects him of causing the death of an associate in crime in order to screen his own culpability. The NIA has found that Waze possessed many more high-end cars. He was operating from a room in the Oberoi Hotel that had been booked in some other name for a hundred days!

This then is the story of an encounter specialist who featured as the hero in a Marathi language film called ‘Rege’. How has the public digested all the muck that is being published in the newspapers daily about the findings of the NIA? People should open their eyes to reality. The criminal-police-politician nexus is clearly pictured in the Waze episode. It is necessary to break this nexus if crime is to be checked. The politicians need money and muscle to vie for power. It is not the job of the police to help them to acquire power. The police can do nothing to discourage the political class, but it can shake one leg of the three-legged stool on which this unholy nexus hinges and cause it to totter.

The Home Minister could not have summoned two comparatively very junior officials to his house and asked them to collect Rs 100 crore a month from bar owners and others who contravene regulations unless he was aware that these are the officers entrusted with the collection of the spoils. And he could not but have known that the Police Commissioner relied on Waze for special tasks.

Will all these questions be put to the former Home Minister and the former Police Commissioner by the NIA and the CBI? The people’s safety depends on the nexus being buried. The chance has come. The BJP-Shiv Sena divorce has made this possible.

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