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Sunday,23-January-2022

Maharashtra

Sameer Wankhede: NCB scarecrow cooks up Bollywood’s “shraadh”

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 “Lights, Cameras… Raid…!” When the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede planned a rave party raid aboard the Cordelia Cruise luxury ship, one thing was guaranteed — tonnes of publicity, even if the actual drug recovery maybe a few tolas.

For, among those present on the ship on October 2 was Aryan Khan, the son of Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan and producer Gauri, besides a few others from the glam-entertainment world.

Truly, a ‘heady’ ambience for the NCB’s high-profile operation, a first-ever on a luxury cruiser in India, and he effected a big haul of big names, but barely any worthwhile quantity of drugs.

Amid a national furore and international attention, Wankhede zoomed around to catch a total of 20 alleged junkies by their collars and dumping them in the lockup, all the while basking in the reflected glory.

In the past over a year since Wankhede, 42, (IRS 2008), was deputed to the IPS-dominated NCB for the late Sushant Singh Rajput death probe — he jumped head-first with surgical strikes to “uproot the drug citadel in Bollywood and Mumbai”.

Many well-known names like Arjun Rampal, Rhea Chakravorty, Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor, Rakul Preet Singh, Sara Ali Khan, comedy couple Bharti Singh and Harsh Limbachiya, Armaan Kohli and the latest, Aryan Khan, were trapped in his net, and at one point he even went tantalisingly close to the Karan Johar’s ‘girebaan’ (collar).

Earlier, during his stint at the Mumbai Airport Customs, Wankhede dabbled in his favourite glamour game — cornering/detaining people like Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Mika Singh, Minisha Lamba, Vivek Oberoi, Ram Gopal Verma, etc., and once even the 2011 World Cup Cricket Trophy made of gold-silver, which was ‘released’ after the BCCI coughed out the customs duty!

A far cry from the days when the NCB was a ghost, its name rarely heard in public — like the 2001 arrest of actor Fardeen Khan — compared with the daily parade of a charade now, akin to a ‘saas-bahu serial’.

If Wankhede was hoping for a pat or promotion, there was some disappointment — this time suddenly chinks were exposed both in the anti-drug actions and intentions, the NCB’s reputation in tatters — and the hunter became the hunted.

The name dreaded by Bollywood suddenly came under intense scrutiny as the Nationalist Congress Party Minister Nawab Malik single-handedly snooped on the super-sleuth — to hammer hollow the NCB’s credibility.

Like a thirsty bloodhound, the bearded, bespectacled Malik coolly launched a serial expose to prove Wankhede’s actions as ‘farjical’ (fraudulent) strikes — unearthing Bharatiya Janata Party-linked ‘independent witnesses’, his unsavoury friends, a wanted-nabbed criminal, alleged fake caste certificate, religious credentials, etc., that rattled the officer.

As Aryan Khan remained in a vice-like grip for 29 nights, Wankhede spent sleepless nights, ran from one NCB probe to another, knocked the doors of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, the DGP Sanjay Pandey, Mumbai CoP Hemant Nagrale, the NCSC, the Special NDPS Court and the Bombay High Court.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has cried foul at Wankhede’s unceremonial attempts to perform Bollywood’s last rites and exorcise it’s spirit to other glamour-parched locales like Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh.

Some politicians like Shiv Sena’s Kishore Tiwari have accused him of a ‘danga’ targeting film personalities to help perch his wife Kranti Redkar-Wankhede — a Marathi actress — as Bollywood barely beckons.

There are other dubious firsts — how crucial ‘witnesses’ are bared in public glare which can seriously hamper the NCB’s usually covert and sensitive operations with global ramifications henceforth, the unprecedented witness allegations of extortion bids with Wankhede’s name tossed, or the accusations and probes he faces now from various quarters.

As is common knowledge, the real ‘drug bunkers’ are not in Bollywood, but on the outskirts of Mumbai and the NCB’s overzealous James Bonds could take up the tough challenge instead of ‘boo-ing’ soft targets in the glamour-industry.

A grim Malik has warned of more aces up his ‘kurta’ sleeve, vowing that “picture abhi baaki hai”, will end only after Wankhede’s sack and jail.

With many BJP leaders openly supporting him, only time will tell if Wankhede is a political puppet or a pure patriot.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

Maharashtra

Mumbai’s COVID-19 Cases Further Drop To 5,008 and 12 Die

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Mumbai on Friday reported 5,008 new coronavirus cases, 700 less than the previous day, and 12 fresh fatalities linked to the infection, the city civic body said.

With this, the city’s COVID-19 tally rose to 10,28,715, while the death toll jumped to 16,512, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) bulletin said.

This was the third day in a row when daily COVID-19 cases have dropped in the financial capital.

On Thursday, 5,708 COVID-19 cases and 12 fatalities were reported in the city.

With 12,913 more patients discharged during the day, the number of recovered cases jumped to 9,95,338, said the bulletin.

Mumbai’s coronavirus recovery rate has increased to 97 per cent, while the case doubling rate has improved to 72 days, the BMC said.

As many as 50,032 new coronavirus tests were conducted in the metropolis as compared to 53,203 on Thursday. 

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Maharashtra

Parrikar’s son to quit BJP, contest Goa polls as independent candidate

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Rejecting the BJP’s efforts to arrive at a compromise, former Chief Minister late Manohar Parrikar’s son Utpal Parrikar said on Friday that he would resign from the saffron party and contest as an Independent candidate for the February 14 polls from the Panaji Assembly constituency, which was formerly represented by his father.

Addressing a press conference here, Utpal Parrikar also said that his candidature was rejected by the party during the 2019 Panaji bypolls — facilitated after his father’s death — despite support from his constituents, adding that the BJP no longer looks like the party of which his father was a part.

“People of Panaji did not vote for Manohar Parrikar just because he was an MP. They voted for him because he stood for some values. The time has come for me to also stand for those values,” Utpal Parrikar said, adding that he would be resigning from the party and contesting as an Independent candidate.

“Last time, the organisation rejected my candidature despite popular support due to some special reasons. People know the circumstances… Now it does not look like a decision of Parrikar’s party,” Utpal said.

Manohar Parrikar’s elder son’s candidature has been rejected twice by the BJP, in the 2019 bypolls and now in 2022. In the express instance, the BJP has offered a ticket to sitting MLA Atanasio Monserrate.

When Monserrate had contested the 2019 bypolls as a Congress candidate, BJP leaders had slammed him citing the list of criminal offences registered against him, which included a rape charge of a minor girl, extortion and leading a mob attack on a city police station.

Monserrate had won the polls on the Congress ticket, but had joined the BJP soon after.

“I feel embarrassed to talk about the candidate put up by the party. In Panaji, where the party has grown over 30 years, (the party) has given a ticket to someone who joined just two years ago. I have no choice now. I have to go to the people,” he said.

“As far as a political party is concerned, the only party available to me is the BJP. The other platform is Independent, my own platform which I had to do unfortunately in these circumstances for the values I believe in,” he said, adding that he would not be joining any other political outfit.

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Maharashtra

No MVA in Goa; Shiv Sena, NCP to go without Congress

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The hope of stitching an MVA like alliance in Goa has not taken off as Congress is unwilling to ally with the Shiv Sena and NCP. The three parties have formed Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra but in Goa the Congress is already in alliance with Goa Forward Party.

The Congress is not willing to concede more seats to the allies and sources say it thinks that the NCP and the Shiv Sena in the fray will split BJP votes.

Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP said, “NCP and Shiv Sena tried to form an MVA like alliance in Goa but did not get positive response from the Congress.”

The Shiv Sena leader in the past had met Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for the same but things did not work out as Congress assessment is that people will vote for a change. NCP leader Praful Patel has said that his party will contest with Shiv Sena in the state.

The Congress had alleged that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Trinamool Congress were contesting in Goa to split the opposition vote and help the BJP.

Congress Senior observer of Goa, P. Chidambaram said the people are voting either for the BJP or for a regime change.

Chidambaram in a statement said, “My assessment that the AAP (and the TMC) will only fracture the non-BJP vote in Goa has been confirmed by Mr Arvind Kejriwal. The contest in Goa is between Congress and BJP”.

“Those who want a regime change (after 10 years of misrule) will vote for the Congress. Those who want the regime to continue will vote for the BJP. The choice before the voter in Goa is stark and clear. Do you want a regime change or not? I appeal to the voters of Goa to vote for a regime change and vote Congress,” he added.

The Congress is facing a tough battle in Goa while trying to be ahead of the BJP as the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are spoiling the grand old party’s game in the state.

The Congress is trying to put up a strong face and has denied any alliance talks with the Trinamool despite speculations in the political circles. Jittered by the Congress stance, the Trinamool has launched an offensive against the Congress.

“The Trinamool has been saying that they are open to alliances, but Congress is not willing to accept and behaving like an emperor,” Trinamool leader Mahua Moitra said, adding: “Need of hour in Goa is to defeat BJP – no one should be on their high horse. AITC will not, repeat not, shy away from walking the last mile.”

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