Updated: March 16, 2021 4:49:09 pm
Two days after the arrest of Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the Antilia bomb scare case, there are several red faces in the ruling coalition in Maharashtra.
On Monday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray at his official residence, Varsha, in Mumbai. Sena sources said the two discussed Waze’s arrest and the police’s handling of the bomb scare episode outside Mukesh Ambani’s residence. There is growing disquiet, sources said, over the manner in which the entire case has been handled by Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, sources told The Indian Express.
A senior Sena leader told The Indian Express that Pawar and Thackeray agreed that the Antilia scare — and the subsequent death of Thane-based Mansukh Hiran — had shown the Mumbai police in very poor light and had adversely affected the image of the government as well.
One view emerging at the meeting, sources said, was that changing the Commissioner could signal accountability and help the government recover some lost ground. Moreover, Thackeray and Pawar are also said to have discussed the future of NCP’s Deshmukh given that the conduct of the Mumbai Police had also reinforced how he was not in effective “control over his department or the police force”. Both the leaders are said to be “on the same page” that the Home portfolio may also need a change of face. However, the Sena leader added that “nothing specific” has been decided yet.
The NIA arrested Waze late Saturday night in connection with its probe into the recovery of a Scorpio vehicle containing 20 gelatin sticks outside Antilia in south Mumbai on February 25. The arrest has given the opposition BJP ammunition to attack the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, also comprising the NCP and Congress.
The Sena continues to defend Waze, who had joined the party in 2008 while under suspension in a separate case but did not renew his membership later on. The NCP has not spoken publicly on the issue while the Congress has maintained silence.
Sources said Pawar’s meeting with Thackeray indicated the discomfort within the coalition about Waze’s arrest, and his questionable role in the bomb scare case. Within the top echelons of the Sena, questions are being raised over the way the Police Commissioner has “mishandled” the case. “Waze was reporting directly to him. How did the police commissioner let this happen?” the senior Sena leader said.
Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s access to call records that showed Waze had been in touch with Mansukh Hiran, who was using the Scorpio before it was reported stolen and found parked outside the Ambani residence, has also triggered suspicion within the government and the Sena. The role of top officers in handing over the documents to the BJP leader is not being ruled out, the Sena leader said.
Pawar also held a separate meeting of his party’s ministers to review their work. “There is no question of changing the state’s Home Minister. Don’t create rumours,” Jayant Patil, Irrigation Minister and NCP state president, told reporters.
Meanwhile, Sena mouthpiece Saamna remained steadfast in its support of Waze. In an editorial, the newspaper said Waze had been on the hit-list of the BJP and Centre since he arrested the journalist Arnab Goswami and put him behind bars.
“It is surprising that NIA comes to Mumbai to investigate the case of explosives found near Antilia when the bravery and capabilities of the Maharashtra police are being acknowledged around the world. It is clear that NIA coming in this way is to settle the scores over past incidents. Waze and his team arrested hypocrite Goswami and exposed the TRP scam. In turn, the Centre has arrested Waze. The file of the case is closed here,” stated the editorial.
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