Maharashtra: If Thackeray does not act convincingly, he won’t have a government or a reputation left Image Credit: Reuters

Most people who live in South East Asia intuitively know that the police — any police force — is bent, ready to extort and always ready to break the law it is supposed to uphold.

So the shenanigans in the Mumbai police, which would put any Bollywood thriller to shame, are not surprising.

The plot, if you can call it that, involves explosives placed outside the residence of one the richest man in the world — Mukesh Ambani, an encounter cop taken back in the force nearly two decades after he had to leave — called a “Shiv Sainik in uniform”, a murder victim, disgruntled ex police chief making sensational charges against his political boss of asking for ₹ 100 crore every month from extortion.

If this was not embarrassing enough, with the clear and present reek of corruption, add a former chief minister desperate to return to office backed by his angry political party which is still livid at being denied power in India’s financial capital — Mumbai.

Add to this a case of fudged Television Rating Points (TRP), an anchor plus channel owner aligned with the BJP, and you have yourself the spiciest vada pav one that is difficult to even take a bite of.

BJP's final push

And, as Devendra Fadnavis mounts visceral attack after attack on the unlikely Maharashtra Vikas Agadi (MVA) government led by Uddhav Thackeray who was the BJP’s first ally and saffron twin for 20 years, the matter of the explosives and the murder have been relegated to side stories as political heavyweights slug it out. Currently the survival of the government is the real stake, not solving a explosives case and a murder.

Some background for perspective. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has called Sharad Pawar chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) his “political guru”. Pawar invited him to Baramati, his fiefdom, exchanged pleasantries, yet chose to go with the Congress party and Shiv Sena to form a government in Maharashtra.

This came after a desperate Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tried to break the NCP by getting Ajit Pawar, nephew of Sharad Pawar, to defect to form a government with Fadnavis as the CM again. The government lasted less than the time it takes to fly from Delhi to Mumbai.

The BJP has not forgiven Pawar for this embarrassment galore. The party has also not forgiven Thackeray for spurning them and forming a government with erstwhile rivals the Congress party.

To understand the current war this background is essential. It was never about the utter collapse of law and order in Mumbai, Sachin Waze, Parambir Singh and Anil Deshmukh the home minister accused of corruption and extortion.

A big political slugfest

It was always about the real slugfest between Modi, Amit Shah, Pawar and Thackeray. And, how the MVA government can be toppled. Pawar, who conjured up this government, is now firefighting to save it.

Pawar has made three points that Singh’s allegations are serious as Deshmukh is a NCP nominee but, were made as an afterthought after he was removed from his plum post as commissioner Mumbai police, an independent inquiry needs to be held (Pawar has suggested Julio Riberio, an upright former commissioner of Mumbai police) and it is Thackeray’s prerogative as CM to sack Deshmukh if he wants.

Pawar has managed to defuse the explosive situation for the MVA government just as the BJP had upped the ante and launched a high decibel campaign to bring down the government.

Riberio however, has refused to head any inquiry calling the going on “very murky” and citing his advanced age — he is 92. What does need to be investigated is how Waze was brought back to the Mumbai police, citing Covid and then put in a high profile job, the fact that Waze was carrying a note counting machine in his Mercedes is the cherry on the cake. Yes. Re-read it slowly an assistant inspector of police carries a note counting machine.

While cops like Waze were brought back to tackle COVID, Mumbai has a record number of cases topping the charts in India.

If this is not a test case for a clean up, then what will be? Mumbai pays India’s highest income tax, most of India’s top corporates have headquarters in Mumbai, the Hindi film industry is based here and yet the reality is that anyone however rich, insulated and privileged is a phone call away from being extorted.

This ought to make any sane leader think but, clearly the only thoughts are to maximise extortion. The only way out of this morass where gangsters (Dawood Ibrahim ran his rackets in Mumbai where his father was a sub-inspector of police) and encounter cops rule the roost is police reform.

The time is now. If Thackeray does not act convincingly he won’t have a government or a reputation left.