In its almost 16 months of being in power, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance led by the Shiv Sena has faced one challenge after the other.
As Thackeray was tackling the biggest challenge of his tenure just months after taking oath as Maharashtra became the worst-hit state by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government found itself tackling several other political storms over controversies including the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, tussle with actor Kangana Ranaut, and the TRP scam case involving journalist Arnab Goswami among others.
In yet another controversy that has brought the credibility of the Thackeray government under the scanner and severely dented the image of the Mumbai Police, the case of explosives being recovered outside Mukesh Ambani’s residence on 25 February might be the MVA’s biggest challenge so far.
In 20 days, the tides have turned for both Uddhav Thackeray and the Mumbai Police.
The Big Twists and Sharp Turns: A Timeline
25 February: A vehicle laden with 20 gelatin sticks is found parked close to Mukesh Ambani's residence, Antilia. The case is taken over by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS).
26 February: API Sachin Vaze, heading the Crime Branch, is given charge of the case. The police traces the owner of the SUV to be one Mansukh Hiren, who had reported the car to be stolen just days before the incident.
1 March: A letter surfaces in the name of Jaish-ul-Hind, which claims to take responsibility for planting the SUV. However, a letter of denial later surfaces, with the terror outfit calling the previous letter fake and saying that it has nothing against Indian business tycoons.
5 March: Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis demands a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the matter, in the Budget Session of the Maharashtra Assembly.
6 March: In one of the biggest twists, Hiren is found dead under mysterious circumstances and his body is discovered at the Mumbra creek.
7 March: In another twist, Mansukh Hiren’s wife Kamala Hiren lodges a complaint detailing the family’s association with API Sachin Vaze, who was probing the case. Kamala Hiren alleges that Mansukh knew Vaze from before and the latter was in possession of the SUV that was found at the scene till 5 February. She alleges that Vaze had conspired to frame and murder her husband in the case.
8 March: The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) files a murder case against unidentified people, in connection with the death of Mansukh Hiren.
8 March: Fadnavis ups the ante against the MVA government in the Assembly, demands the immediate suspension and arrest of Vaze and the probe to be handed over to the NIA.
8 March: The investigation is taken over by the NIA, which re-registers the case that was so far being probed by the ATS.
10 March: Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh announces in the Assembly that Vaze has been transferred out of the Crime Branch for a ‘fair probe’ in the matter.
11 March: The ATS, which is still probing the case of Hiren’s death separately, records Sachin Vaze’s statement related to his alleged association with Hiren.
12 March: Vaze moves an anticipatory bail application in the Thane district and sessions court, which refuses to grant him interim protection and keeps the plea for hearing on 19 March.
13 March: Vaze is questioned by the NIA for over 12 hours, following which he is arrested at 11:50 pm.
14 March: Vaze is produced before a special NIA court, which remands him to NIA custody till 25 March.
15 March: Vaze is suspended from the force. Meanwhile, the NIA traces a white Innova that allegedly belonged to the Mumbai Police Crime Branch and is believed to be trailing the Scorpio car laden with explosives while it was en route to Mukesh Ambani’s house on 25 February.
15 March: Amid rising political pressure over Vaze’s links with the Sena, CM Thackeray meets ally and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar to discuss the matter. The Opposition demands removal of Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.
15 March: The NIA conducts searches at Vaze’s office at the CIU and confiscates his laptop, mobile phone, iPad, and all the documents from his office.
16 March: Amid reports of rift in the MVA, Thackeray meets deputy CM Ajit Pawar along with state ministers Nitin Raut, Balasaheb Thorat, Varsha Gaikwad, Ashok Chavan, and state Congress chief Nana Patole at his residence. Ajit Pawar assures of no rift in the alliance and says ‘nobody will be protected.’
16 March: A letter surfaces stating that a day after becoming the investigating officer in the case, Vaze on 27 February visited his housing society and reportedly asked for all the CCTV footage available. Vaze and his team had also reportedly taken possession of the CCTV footage and a register from a shop in Thane. The false number plates attached to the two vehicles involved in the Antilia incident were allegedly made in that shop.
17 March: The NIA seizes a black Mercedes Benz allegedly used by Vaze, and finds the original number plate of the Scorpio car, more than Rs 5 lakh in cash, a currency-counting machine, and some clothes in it. Meanwhile, the NIA says that all the data from the electronic devices seized from Vaze was found to be deleted.
17 March: Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh is transferred and replaced by Hemant Nagrale.