The dusty, army-green SUV, parked on a leafy street a few hundred yards from the Mumbai skyscraper that’s home to India’s richest man, didn’t look like much.
Inside, however, police made an alarming discovery: a number of explosives and a letter that local media warned of. Mukesh Ambani, billionaire chairman of the conglomerate Reliance Industries, that this was just a “trailer” for what was to come.
The twists and turns that followed the fear of bombs in late February have turned into one of India’s most dramatic scandals.
The man the SUV was linked to was found dead, floating in a stream. A policeman who is said to have political connections – and an allegedly violent past – has been arrested. Mumbai’s police chief was ousted and continued to accuse the state’s interior minister of launching an elaborate extortion racket in the city.
The metropolis of Mumbai has long held a reputation as a city of extremes, with its glittering offices and movie studios built on top of a notorious belly of politics and brass knuckles.
But analysts said there was little precedent for how the latest controversy brought out of the shadows the messy inner workings of Indian finance capital and the behind-the-scenes transactions that link politics, police and crime. in much of the country.
“The real thing to remember is the blatant degradation of institutions,” said Suhas Palshikar, a political scientist formerly of Savitribai Phule Pune University. “This is not just a story of administrative decadence. It also means that there is a complete failure of the policy. . . The drama is new, but all the elements have always been there.
After Mansukh Hiren, the small suburban businessman who police linked the SUV to – and who reported the vehicle missing – was found dead, investigators arrested police officer Sachin Vaze for his alleged role in the conspiracy bomb.
Vaze told the court that he was “a scapegoat,” according to a lawyer representing him, and that he was not involved in the crime.
The scandal could have been extinguished without the intervention of Param Bir Singh, the former Mumbai police commissioner, who was transferred from his post a few days after Vaze’s arrest.
Singh alleged in a widely distributed letter that the interior minister of Maharashtra, the state that is home to Mumbai, wanted Vaze to help him raise 1 billion rupees ($ 14 million) per month in payments from businesses such as restaurants and bars.
A lawyer for Singh has confirmed the authenticity of the letter. A case filed by Singh, demanding a central government investigation into his allegations, is being heard in the Bombay High Court.
Maharashtra’s Interior Minister Anil Deshmukh responded in a letter posted on twitter that Singh’s claims were “absolutely false and unfounded”. He called it a “conspiracy” to distract from the bombing and undermine the state government.
Among the many unanswered questions is what, if anything, the bombers wanted from Ambani. Reliance declined to comment, but previously said he was confident police “would quickly complete their full investigation.”
The scandal could also have wider political ramifications. Maharashtra is ruled by a coalition led by the right-wing nationalist party Shiv Sena, which broke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party after the state. elections in 2019.
The events rekindled memories of Mumbai in the 1990s – formerly Bombay – when the city’s underworld was at its peak. Larger-than-life police officers renowned for their ruthless tactics, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals, have been hailed as heroes and enjoyed political backing.
Vaze, according to media reports, was known to be one of them. Among his alleged victims, he is said to have said to the guard in 2011: “I never think about it. Each of them deserved to go and they left.
Vaze was suspended from police in 2004 for his alleged role in a death in custody, although he called it a “false case,” according to his lawyer. But he then joined Shiv Sena and was reinstated in the police last year, according to media reports. Vaze could not be reached for comment.
“It’s a quintessential Bombay story,” said a city reporter. “It’s a typical Bollywood Masala Thriller in French. There is as much Masala as you can put it in a typical Bollywood scenario. “
Former police officers said the scandal underscored the need to curb the politicization of law enforcement, which allows politicians to decide on appointments and transfers, leaving the police beholden to ruling parties.
“In a way, it’s good that it brought out the alleged link between police and politicians [into the open], although an investigation is needed to prove the charges, ”said Meeran Chadha Borwankar, who previously held senior positions in Maharashtra and the national police force.
“The political parties in power generally expect the police to respect their line and act in their stead in gray black areas and sometimes totally illegal, as the letter from the former commissioner claims,” she said. added. “We should be looking for an independent police organization instead of the current system where we are at the mercy of politicians.”
This grim affair could have national implications if it upsets the balance of power in Maharashtra, considered one of the country’s biggest political prizes for its size and economic weight.
The BJP maintained a fierce rivalry with the government led by Shiv Sena and denounced his alleged conduct. Political analysts said this could ultimately give Modi’s party another chance to seize power in the state if the coalition is weakened enough.
“For the BJP, this is a tailor-made political opportunity,” said Milan Vaishnav, senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank. “Even if they don’t come back to power, they can go to the bank about it in the election.”