Parambir Singh Drops Out of Sight; Will He Remain Out of Mind?
Has Param Bir Singh gone abroad or is he holed up in some remote inaccessible place in the country?
(This story was first published on 3 October 2021 and is being republished from The Quint's archives in light of former Maharashtra minister Anil Deshmukh being arrested by the Enforcement Directorate following a probe into the money laundering allegations against him.)
How does a serving top-ranking police officer simply disappear off the face of the earth?
Yet that is exactly what seems to have happened with regard to former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh, under investigation for his various nefarious activities while serving as a Mumbai top cop.
Singh had accused former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh of compelling police officers to collect “donations" from dance bars and hookah parlours in the city.
While Deshmukh denied this allegation and there was no evidence of his complicity at the time, Singh got into more trouble as it was discovered that his pet police officer Sachin Vaze was somehow embroiled in a conspiracy to blow up the home of a leading industrialist of this country who is close to the current political regime. Vaze was picked up by the National Investigation Agency and even as the investigation is proceeding at snail's pace, it is believed that Singh has dropped out of sight to escape inevitable arrest.
But has he gone abroad or is he holed up in some remote inaccessible place in the country out of the radar of the investigators?
The 'Abroad' Presumption
The presumption that he has gone abroad rather defies belief for there are clear protocols for serving officers travelling abroad and it would be impossible for any high ranking officer like Singh to anonymously sneak out of the country. In addition to the fact that living abroad is an expensive proposition beyond the reach of a government servant, even if he be accused of living beyond his known sources of income.
Secondly, if he has actually gone abroad, this could not happen without the complicity of some higher-ups in the political hierarchy.
But Singh faces a crucial dilemma – he is dealing with two ideologically opposed governments, one at the Centre and the other in Maharashtra. He has dealt well with both during his terms as Pune and Mumbai police commissioner.
While in Pune, he led the Bhima-Koregaon case under the tutelage of then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. As Mumbai commissioner under the Maha Vikas Aghadi regime, he presided over the arrest of a television anchor who had been targetting the Uddhav Thackeray government.
But now, with reports that Vaze might have revealed all to the NIA, and the examples of Gujarat top cop Sanjeev Bhat and UP police officer Amitabh Thakur before him (both were arrested on unsustainable grounds but continue to be denied bail), Singh needed to evade arrest and cool his heels until either the investigation proves inconclusive or he secures some protection from one or the other political regime.
But the fact that Singh could just drop out of sight without the Mumbai police, reputed to be second only to Scotland Yard, being the wiser, does not say much about the premier police force.
However, there has been a precedent before now. In the late 1980s, a high ranking police officer in charge of the Narcotics Bureau simply disappeared overnight amid allegations that he was complicit with drug traders and smugglers.
He was said to have decamped to the US where he had family but the Mumbai police have not been able to trace him to date. However, that was the era before the internet, smartphones and social media, when people could maintain their anonymity without much effort or difficulty.
But Singh seems to have largely kept himself and his family out of sight even while he was a high profile officer, except when his job demanded it. His son and daughter are married into top political families of Maharashtra and seeking the protection of these politicians from different political parties might not be a very difficult task to achieve.
A Cocktail of Conspiracy, Mystery, Complicity & Negligence
But out of sight may not necessarily prove out of mind for the charges against Singh, of complicity in arms and ammunition smuggling/dealing, conspiracy in the murder of innocent citizens, a possible connection to terrorists etc, are serious.
However, if the authorities are serious about tracking him down they only have to check the log books at all the international airports, for Singh could not have travelled incognito without his current passport.
If he has switched off all his trackable devises and instead buried himself at a remote resort anywhere in the country, it might take longer and intense political will to ferret him out.
However, the slow-paced investigation into the case indicates a lack of that very political will and there are suggestions that Singh has gone underground until the two sides achieve a reconciliation on the issue, for another key character in the investigation who seems to have dropped out of sight is Anil Deshmukh.
The latter, though, has the protection of his party chief Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party who refused to abandon him even when it became apparent that Deshmukh would have to resign. Deshmukh, however, though an MLA, is not governed by the protocols of a serving police officer and may find it easier to stay out of sight.
Whatever be the true facts of the case, it is a heady cocktail of conspiracy, mystery, political intrigue and complicity and criminal negligence. It is unlikely we will get to the bottom of it soon.
(Sujata Anandan is a journalist, and author of `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever', 'Maharashtra Maximus: The state, its people & politics' and tweets @sujataanandan. This is a an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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