|| Misdirection (noun): the action or process of directing someone to the wrong place or in the wrong direction ||
The dramatic resurfacing of Mumbai’s ex-police commissioner Param Bir Singh this week, after six months of being underground, is anything but a win for the investigating agencies and the Maha Vikas Aghadi government that are probing allegations of extortion against him. Over the past eight months—ever since he was shunted out of his post as the city’s top cop due to his handling of the bomb scare near businessman Mukesh Ambani’s residence—the once-upon-a-time feared (and now disgraced) IPS officer has left several members of the state government, as well as sections of the media, red-faced and completely blindsided.
In a first for someone who has held the post of Mumbai police commissioner, Singh was declared as a “proclaimed offender” under section 82 of the CrPC by a local court last week after he failed to appear before it several times. A single-member Chandiwal Committee, formed by the MVA government to look into allegations of graft made by Singh against ex-home minister Anil Deshmukh, in a letter written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray earlier in March this year, has imposed fines on him on three different occasions for not responding to its summons.
However, despite his prolonged silence and public manhunt, Singh seems to be winning the battle of optics so far.
On the last day of September, several news agencies widely reported that he had likely fled to Russia. The reports came at a time when Singh had not been seen or heard from in several months, ever since he took official leave from his role as Director-General of Maharashtra’s Home Guard in May. The multiple reports, most of them citing anonymous sources, forced Dilip Walse Patil, Maharashtra’s new Home Minister after Deshmukh stepped down from the post, to respond to reporters’ questions about whether Singh had indeed left the country. “I have heard something like that,” said Patil. “Along with the Home Ministry, we are also searching for his whereabouts.”
Patil added that Singh couldn’t go abroad without clearance from the government since he was— after all that had transpired—still a government officer.
This was just the beginning of the speculation, which at the time, may have seemed like a good strategy to build pressure on Singh. In retrospect though, it looks very much like jumping the gun.
Patil’s borderline admission that Singh may have fled to Russia was followed by a series of speculations of similar nature. On November 1, former Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam, whose party is in an alliance with the Shiv Sena and NCP at the helm of the state, took the guesswork up a notch. “The police have said that he is absconding,” Nirupam tweeted. “Turns out, he’s in Belgium. Who gave him safe passage? Can’t we get him back by sending undercover officers?”
Last Thursday, the apex court refused to grant Singh any sort of interim protection without first learning of his whereabouts; the latter had filed a petition seeking protection in the multiple cases of corruption and extortion filed against him across the state. On Monday, Singh’s counsel told the court that his client was “very much in the country” but was not joining the ongoing investigation in Maharashtra as there was a threat to his life from the Mumbai police. Singh’s counsel further said that he “had no fear” and was ready to appear before a CBI court whenever summoned. The court, after being reassured by Singh’s counsel that he was in India itself, and also taking note of the alleged threat to his life, granted him protection from arrest and directed him to join the investigation.
This was the first time that anyone—even Singh’s counsel—had made any sort of public acknowledgment about his whereabouts.
On Wednesday, Singh made Nirupam and Patil’s speculations look foolhardy when he told news channels that he was currently in Chandigarh and was most likely to join the probe in Mumbai soon. He stole the spotlight in a dramatic fashion the next day when he showed up—without any sort of prior intimation—at Mumbai’s Crime Branch unit to record his statement. “I have faith in the judiciary,” he told reporters.
If so, then why was he underground for six months? By stating that he fears a threat to his life from the institution he once led—Singh’s claim of having faith in the judiciary (but not the system) seems paradoxical. However, his slow game of cat-and-mouse with the courts seems to have got him what we wanted, step by step. First the goodwill of the public, for having shown up voluntarily, albeit in a dramatic fashion, to join the investigation, followed by a granting of interim protection from arrest from the top court up until December 6.
Even now, Singh stays two steps ahead of the Mumbai and Thane Police that are investigating at least four cases of extortion registered against him. After all, he has been the ringmaster for far too long, to not know how the circus functions.
On Friday, he shed his Mr Hyde attire and showed up in prime Dr Jekyll fashion in front of the Thane police, who grilled him in two halves during the day, for a total of eight hours. Singh, who has investigated (and eliminated) members of the underworld back in the ‘90s, is no stranger to the art of interrogation. He patiently underwent the process—and even found time in the midst of it to present himself before a local court that had issued a non-bailable warrant against him, which was then taken back by the court.
Also on the same day, the former police chief’s counsel told the single-member Justice Chandiwal inquiry commission formed by the Maharashtra government, that his client would “probably” appear before it on Monday.
Singh’s interim protection, granted to him by the Supreme Court, also came at the expense of the Maharashtra government looking bashful—even humiliated—as it had forgotten to file a caveat against the ex-police commissioner’s appeal in court. If it had remembered doing so, the top court would have given the state’s counsel an opportunity to be heard before passing the order. Instead, the court directed the state government to respond by December 6 i.e. the next date for the hearing. A high-level meeting was held in Mantralaya in the aftermath of this self-inflicted blunder, reported a reputed daily, blind quoting sources.
One of the sharpest U-turn’s made by Singh was in front of the Chandiwal Commission on Wednesday, when his counsel added a drastic subtext to Singh’s allegations against Deshmukh that the latter had asked him and other police officers to illegally collect ₹100 crore from bars and other establishments in the city. Singh’s counsel claimed that his client’s allegations against the ex-home minister were “hearsay” since “the information given to him was provided by some officers.” His counsel said that Singh had no “first-hand information of what had transpired” and hence, even if he were to step into the witness box to depose, his testimony “would have no value in law because it would be what someone else told him.” Advocate Chandrachud, appearing for Singh, also assured the commission that Singh would file an affidavit in the coming week and wouldn’t deviate from his March 20 letter written to Uddhav Thackeray and containing allegations of corruption against Deshmukh, reported Live Law.
All in all, Singh seems to have his bases covered, at least for the moment. His willingness to join the investigation and undergo stringent questioning, as well as appear before various courts and the Chandiwal inquiry commission, seems to have erased his past misconducts of being an absconder and a no-show. As David Copperfield once said, “The real secret of magic lies in the performance.” And if Singh has proved anything so far, it is that he is indeed a world-class performer.