'Home' is where the trouble is

Updated: Feb 17, 2020, 07:29 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Anil Deshmukh, who heads the home department, should avoid becoming a scapegoat, even as coalition bosses keep some matters out of his purview

Home Minister Anil Deshmukh
Home Minister Anil Deshmukh

picIt was a foregone conclusion that matters related to the home department would create more problems than any other department in the Maha Vikas Aghadi. The disenchantment surfaced in the Shiv Sena camp when a Sena minister, who held the home department before the cabinet expansion, was told to give it up for the Nationalist Congress Party, which put one of its most experienced members, Anil Deshmukh, in charge. The developments over the past one month reaffirm that the department that deals with the state's law and order through several arms of the police force would make more news than ever in the days to come.

The chinks in the MVA showed when the issue of transferring of the Elgar Parishad probe from the Pune police to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) came up at the home department and the Chief Minister's Office, respectively.

While the home minister wanted to follow his party boss Sharad Pawar's line that the transfer was unilateral and spoke of the Centre's highhandedness, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray overruled his decision to facilitate the transfer. This left Pawar furious. "It was even more wrong for the state government to support the transfer of the case," he said in Kolhapur. But, the NCP chief also reiterated that the coalition was collaborating. If so, then, why did the CM use his discretionary powers to support the BJP-led Centre despite saying earlier that he did not approve of transferring the case?

Another matter that raises doubt over MVA's collaboration is the home minister's proposal of probing the alleged phone tapping of opposition leaders during the BJP regime, which is gathering dust because, in the first place, the Sena wasn't very keen on getting into the row. Complicated and mired in difference of opinion among the political bosses, administration and police top brass, the final decision has been left to Thackeray. Will the chief minister endorse the NCP's views in this case?
While the Sena boss is out to prove his hard line Hindu credentials in view of the MNS's show of saffron strength and its support to the CAA, the police force's handling of anti-CAA and anti-NCR agitations in the state, particularly in Mumbai's Nagpada, has left the liberals in the Congress and NCP jittery. The liberals have cried foul over the police cases filed against the rights activists, independent journalists and university students for protesting. A retired police officer described the Thackeray government's police as a photocopy of the previous BJP government's.

The Congress and NCP don't appear to be in favour of allowing the agitation to run for long because that would expose their soft stand on Hindutva. The Congress-minded people have made efforts to influence women protesters to withdraw the agitation, but in vain. On the other hand, the Sena leadership is sitting pretty garnering points after points by unleashing the Mumbai police.

In a coalition like MVA, the loyalties of the police force and administration (read the IPS and IAS, respectively) would always be split among the powerful, with the highly powerful getting more traction from the lobbies. In this government, a handful leaders enjoy the coveted status. On top of the chart are Thackeray and Sharad Pawar.

Thackeray has the power of letter (to overrule) while Pawar can at the most influence the chief minister with a word of communication which can be deciphered into advice or suggestion for action and not necessarily as an order.

For some babus and police officers, the road doesn't end at Thackeray and Pawar, but it goes up to the opposition leaders in Maharashtra and more importantly the BJP's top leadership in New Delhi. Don't be surprised if some top officers get an extension in the state services with an approval from the Centre.

So far, the MVA has not shown any big misunderstanding in transferring IAS officers. But, the reshuffling of IPS officers, especially the appointment of the commissioners of Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Navi Mumbai, Nagpur and other cities, isn't going to be trouble-free. Rumours of the chief of Maharashtra Police being replaced have subsided for now. But as the police establishment board is likely to meet soon to decide the postings and promotions, the aspirants have started intense lobbying.
It is understood that the Sena does not want the NCP and Congress to interfere in police postings in Mumbai and its metropolitan area of Thane, Mira-Bhayander and Navi Mumbai and the Konkan range, on condition that it will let the partners take the rest of Maharashtra.

Anil Deshmukh may be dejected over the turn of events, but he can at least try the get a grip of basic policing responsibilities and get the force on its toes using the power he has at his disposal. He should avoid becoming a scapegoat if things go wrong while the coalition bosses keep certain matters out of his ambit.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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