From over a month, Maharashtra is under chaos and political turmoil as Mumbai witness bomb scare followed by a murder mystery, having a terror angle and uprooting one of the biggest political scams of India.
A green-colored SUV with 2.5kg of explosives was found parked on the Carmichael Road, south Mumbai near ‘Antilia’- the multi-storey residence of the Indian billionaire industrialist and business tycoon Mukesh Ambani with a threat letter on the evening of 25th February, 2021.
As soon as the police got informed of the matter, several cops along with the city’s crime intelligence unit headed by Sachin Vaze rushed to the spot for investigation. And from there began a murky chain of events that involved the Maharashtra state government and the Mumbai police.
From the mysterious death of the SUV owner to arrest of Mumbai police officer Sachin Vaze to transfer of police chief Param Bir Singh- these incidents have puzzled each and everyone.
But let’s first start with ‘The Start’.
An abandoned vehicle was found parked outside the abode of the Chairman of Reliance Industries, that had 20 explosive gelatin sticks (unassembled, without a detonator or a timer), with apparently a fake number plate. It was reported to have been stolen last week and its owner had even backed a complaint about it being missing, as informed by the police.
Hiren Mansukh, the owner of the SUV, a resident of Thane had later informed the reporters that he had parked his vehicle near Airoli Mulund bridge after its steering got jammed on 17 of February while he was on his way to a family function. He further told that when he went on the location the next day to pick his car, it was not there. After hours of searching, he finally lodged a complaint at Vikhroli police station.
Soon after the information about the SUV, the police along with the Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) and the Crime Branch’s Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) reached the spot.
The official had said, “The owner of the vehicle, Hiren Mansukh, visited the police commissioner office in south Mumbai this afternoon after he saw visuals of the SUV found near Ambani’s house, which was similar to his vehicle.”
The gelatin sticks had marks of a Nagpur-based company, where these are made commonly for mining purposes.
Murder of the SUV owner
After this, the statement of Mansukh was recorded by Vaze over three days, and on 4th March Mansukh went missing. Later, the next morning, his body was founded in the Mumbra creek, Retibunder in Thane. This murder, escalated the mystery regarding the already bewildered case. And so, after this the case of explosives found in Scorpio and Hiren’s death was handed to the ATS by the Maharashtra Home Department.
On 8th March, came the news of transfer of case of the recovery of explosive laden SUV to the National Investigation Agency. But still the case of Hiren’s death was with the ATS.
Soon after the transfer the NIA team landed in Mumbai and began its investigation. It visited the Creek, Carmichael road and even examined the SUV. It also met the various police officers and questioned police officers- Sachin Vaze, assistant commissioner of police Nitin Alaknure and ACP Sripad Kale.
Arrest of Sachin Vaze
On 13th March, there came another twist in the case. The NIA questioned assistant police inspector Vaze for around ten to twelve hours and then he was taken into custody, for his alleged role in planting of explosives in the SUV found parked outside Ambani’s house. According to a top NIA official, he confessed to be part of the group that planned the placing of the gelatin sticks.
As of now the NIA court at Kala Ghoda, Mumbai has remanded Vaze in NIA’s custody till March 25, which lead to the suspension of Sachin Vaze by the Maharashtra government.
His arrest was scheduled under the Sections 286 (negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance), 456 (punishment for forgery), 473 (making or possessing counterfeit seal), 506(2) (criminal intimidation, if threat be to cause death or grievous hurt), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and the section 4(a)(b) (1) (punishment for attempt to cause explosion with intent to endanger life or property) of the Indian Explosives Act, 1908.
Reportedly, Vaze has moved to the Bombay High Court, challenging the gounds of his arrest. As informed, the special NIA court will take up the matter after the prosecution refused to give Vaze a copy of his remand application citing privilege and confidentiality.
He is even under investigation for the case of suspicious death of 48-year-old Hiren Mansukh- the SUV owner. Hiren’s wife Vimla has even accused him of being involved in his husband’s death. She has told that his husband was in constant touch with Vaze and had lent him his Scorpio.
Initially Hiren’s death was termed as suicide. But after Vimla’s statement that said, “I suspect Sachin Vaze could have committed the said murder”, the ATS began to treat the case as a murder.
Devendra Fadnavis, the leader of Opposition even asked for his arrest, following Vimla’s statement. This has sort of created a political turmoil in Maharashtra with its impact seen in the Assembly session.
Transfer of Mumbai Police Commissioner
Later, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh was transferred by the Maharashtra government as DG home guards. He was replaced by Hemant Nagrale. Anil Deshmukh, the Maharashtra home minister cited “serious and unforgivable mistakes” by his colleagues as reason for transfer.
Following this Param Bir wrote to the Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray complaining that the home minister Anil Deshmukh had asked the police officers to collect bribes worth at least Rs. 100 crores each month.
Later the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece praised Param Bir for his services. The editorial read, “The government has to do the rejig in police under certain specific circumstances. Param Bir Singh was replaced in the post of Mumbai Police Commissioner, which doesn’t mean he is guilty. He took the command of the post of Mumbai Police Commissioner during very difficult times. He had instilled a passion in the police to fight the Covid-19 crisis.”-
Political uproar in Maharashtra
The whole case with number of its aspects piled up for investigation has created a political chaos in the state. It has created political crossroads between the ruling coalition Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the opposition Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).
Devendra Fadnavis had earlier asked for Vaze’s arrest. After the arrest he spoke to the reporters and said, now this arrest will lead to other names soon popping up. He said, “This isn’t a small plot. It is a major plot. There are many people involved and the reasons for doing this will come out now.”
Another BJP leader Kirit Somaiya told the reporters of ANI news agency that Vaze has six other businesses of which Shiv Sena leaders Sanjay Mashelkar and Vijay Gawai were the business partners.
Contrary to this, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut spoke in support of Vaze. He said ANI news agency, “I believe Sachin Vaze is a very honest and capable officer, he has been arrested in connection with Gelatin sticks that were found. One suspicious death also occurred. It’s Mumbai Police’s responsibility to investigate the matter. No central team was needed.”
An editorial in Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana read, “NIA investigates matters related to terrorism. But despite not having any link to terrorism, the agency has been handed over the case. What is the matter? What probe did the NIA do in the Uri attack, the Pathankot attack, and the Pulwama attack? How many criminals have been arrested? This too is a mystery. But 20 gelatin sticks in Mumbai seems to prove to be a big challenge for NIA”. Shiv Sena has even accused BJP of demoralizing the Mumbai police.
Political Blame game continues with Maharashtra converting into hub of chaos.