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'What makes Waze so important to the powers that be?'

March 19, 2021 10:08 IST

'Every man in the hot seat needs trusted cops to grind their axe with political opponents.'
'And that's what explains Waze's importance; him investigating the fake TRP scandal, his arrest of TV journalist Arnab Goswami, and heading the investigation into the Antilia bomb scare case.'

 

With the National Investigation Agency claiming to amass material evidence to prove the alleged involvement of suspended assistant police inspector Sachin Waze in the cases involving an explosives-laden Scorpio being discovered near Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani's home and the mysterious death of the Scorpio's owner Mansukh Hiren in a creek in Thane, the political tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre and the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress government in Maharashtra is likely to intensify in the days ahead.

With the state BJP attacking the Shiv Sena all daggers drawn, the sordid tale, which began on the intervening night of February 24-25 with the discovery of 20 loose, unassembled, gelatin sticks without any detonator or timer near the Ambani residence, Antilia, turns murkier and murkier with each passing day.

While the NIA claims it has figured out it was Waze's handiwork, the reason why Waze would risk his career by parking an explosive-laden vehicle, all on his own like a filmy lone wolf, outside India's most powerful businessman beats common sense.

What also beats common sense is why, as claimed by former BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis -- who is now the leader of the Opposition in the state assembly -- Chief Minister Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray would get involved with recalling a controversial police officer back on active duty after 16 years of suspension from the police force, on the pretext of filling up vacancies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fadnavis, at a press conference in New Delhi, alleged that Thackeray had called him in 2018 -- when Fadnavis was the CM as well as Maharashtra's home minister -- to reinstate Waze, which he refused because of the latter's controversial track record and suspension ordered by the Bombay high court in 2004 for the custodial death of Mumbai engineer Khwaja Younis in 2003 when he was arrested as a suspect in the Ghatkopar bomb blast case.

What does not beat common sense as a senior Shiv Sena minister puts it bravely, "is why Fadnavis kept mum for almost three years about how we were trying to influence appointment of a controversial police officer but let the skeleton tumble out of the Shiv Sena's political cupboard only when it suited him politically to do so."

Be that as it politically may, since February 25, the case has cost Waze a suspension (the second in his career), got Mumbai police commissioner Parambir Singh transferred, and Mansukh Hiren his life even as the case takes a political turn with the NIA -- which reports to Union Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah -- taking over the case from the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad.

Interestingly, the Mumbai police, under then police commissioner Parambir Singh, had assigned Waze to investigate the Scorpio explosives case, which according to the NIA investigation pushed him into a tight corner as is evident from the central agency "leaking juicy, half-baked details," as per a senior Shiv Sena leader, to prove Waze's involvement in the saga.

The importance of being Waze

Waze, who after his reinstatement into active service in June 2020, after 16 years in the wilderness, was inducted to head the Mumbai police's Crime Branch's Crime Intelligence Unit, bypassing seniority and merit, according to two senior police officers who spoke on the condition that their names and departments would not be cited for this report.

"What makes Waze so important to the powers that be?" asks a senior police officer rhetorically.

"From the TRP scam to the arrest of Arnab Goswami to the Anvay Naik suicide case, all the politically sensitive cases were handed over (by then Mumbai police commissioner Parambir Singh) to Waze despite there being dozens of senior, more capable, officers in the Crime Branch who could have handled these sensitive cases professionally," observes one sleuth pointing towards the politicisation of the Mumbai police.

"All the parties in power show the same colour," he says.

"That the (Maharashtra) home ministry has always been a coveted department whenever alliance partners rustle up their numerical strength is the state's worst kept secret," says the second police officer when asked about Parambir Singh's transfer as director general, Home Guards.

"We cops are the pawns and politicians our masters," he says making no efforts to hide his bitterness over Parambir Singh's transfer and how the Waze case has become a political football between the state and Union government. "They kick us like a football when they get done with our utility."

Waze, who cut his teeth in the city's police force in various departments since 1990, had a political stint when he flirted with the Shiv Sena soon after he resigned in 2007 from the police force.

While Uddhav Thackeray has admitted that Waze had been a Shiv Sainik till 2008, the state BJP leadership is relentless in its pursuit of linking the cornered Waze with its former ally and Parambir Singh as a Thackeray appointee.

"Isn't it evident why Parambir Singh was appointed police commissioner and then Waze made head of the CIU later?" asks a senior BJP leader, who was a minister in the Fadnavis government.

"Every man in the hot seat needs trusted cops to grind their axe with political opponents," remarks one of the two senior police officers.

"And that's what explains Waze's importance; him investigating the fake TRP scandal, his arrest of TV journalist Arnab Goswami, and heading the investigation into the Antilia bomb scare case," he says.

Being 'techno-savvy'

Waze, who was responsible for 63 'encounters' -- in which criminals were slain by the police -- is known for his love for latest gadgets.

According to the two police officers quoted earlier he was the go to guy for many of his colleagues who weren't "as techno-savvy as Waze," says one of them.

He used his understanding of technology adeptly to crack credit card frauds and cyber crimes.

The NIA claims Waze erased the memory of several of his gadgets to wipe clean traces of his alleged involvement in the Antilia bomb scare case.

The NIA has also claims that Waze was seen near the black Scorpio, dressed in an over-sized PPE, to hide his identity from the CCTVs that line up the posh Altamount Road neighbourhood in south Mumbai where Ambani lives.

Waze was removed as the lead officer investigating the Antilia bomb scare case when the case was transferred to the NIA from the Maharashtra ATS on March 8, three days after Hiren's body was discovered in Mumbra creek.

The NIA was brought in after Hiren's wife Vimla alleged that Waze was in possession of her husband's car for many months till February 5 and the two knew each other for some time.

Vimla also alleged that Waze was responsible for her husband's death and that he had asked Hiren to get arrested in the case, from which he would emerge unscathed as he was the lead investigator in the case.

Reacting to the BJP's charge of Parambir Singh's alleged proximity to Thackeray and the then police commissioner's preference for Waze for handling politically sensitive cases, the Shiv Sena's Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut called Singh's transfer "routine".

"Given the atmosphere in the state and in the media," says Raut, one of Thackeray's trusted aides' "the chief minister thought that the head of the police force, who is under a cloud of suspicion, should be transferred till the inquiry is complete."

PRASANNA D ZORE