Taking centrestage, a sideshow: the NCP minister vs the officer

While accused by Wankhede of bearing a personal grudge, the 61-year-old Malik — a five-time MLA, Minister for Minority Affairs and Skills Development, and a spokesperson of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government (MVA) — has got with the row a readymade platform.

On October 6, eight days after his son-in-law Sameer Khan was granted bail by a court in a drug case, NCP leader and Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik addressed a press conference accusing NCB Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede of foisting a false case, and acting as a “BJP pawn” to harass political opponents.

Since then, Malik has kept up his attacks on Wankhede, and in the process, been instrumental in producing evidence that has raised serious questions about due process in the NCB’s Cordelia cruise ship raid, that led to the arrest of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan, among others.

While accused by Wankhede of bearing a personal grudge, the 61-year-old Malik — a five-time MLA, Minister for Minority Affairs and Skills Development, and a spokesperson of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government (MVA) — has got with the row a readymade platform. His campaign against Wankhede has so far served the three-party ruling coalition well, as it fits with the narrative of a central agency intent on targeting an Opposition-ruled state. Malik’s hardnosed revelations, particularly Wankhede’s alleged links with the BJP, have also given the MVA an attacking edge it had so far lacked.

In the process, it has given the former Samajwadi Party member — Malik joined the NCP in 2001 — a bigger profile than he has ever enjoyed.

Sources close to Malik claim he has sourced all his information from scanning television footage and checking social media footprints of the men associated with the case.

Malik brought out proof showing the NCB’s involvement of “outsiders” in Aryan’s arrest, and that, of the agency’s three “witnesses”, one had links to the BJP, another was wanted in cases of cheating, while all three had links to Wankhede.

A central agency with immense powers to arrest and search, the NCB was forced to issue a clarification defending itself and the integrity of the investigation.

On Monday, Malik claimed Wankhede had faked his caste certificate to get through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam in 2007 under the SC quota. He said he would meet Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil on Tuesday to seek an SIT into the Cordelia case investigation.

Wankhede, an IRS officer, says Malik’s campaign against him is motivated by personal reasons, particularly the arrest of Sameer Khan. “The NCB had taken action against Nawab Malik’s relative and hence he has been targeting it,” Wankhede said. In a complaint to the Mumbai Police, he said he was being trailed by unknown men, even during a visit to his mother’s grave.

Malik acknowledges his interest in the Cordelia case was triggered by what his family was put through. Sameer Khan, a businessman, spent nine months in jail after he was arrested by the NCB on January 9, alleging recovery of “commercial quantity” of contraband from one of his associates. Granting Sameer Khan bail in September, the court said no case of illicit drug trafficking or conspiracy was made out against him.

“My son-in-law was framed falsely to tarnish my image because I was taking on the BJP. The court order showed there was no truth in the NCB’s claim of seizing ganja and that it was actually herbal tobacco,” Malik told The Indian Express.

While Sameer Khan was now out he added, he would continue “to expose the functioning of the NCB” for using “questionable” tactics to target people.

But interestingly, even now, the MVA, including the NCP, has been largely content to let Malik’s be the only voice — giving some weight to the impression that his is a personal campaign. Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar stated in Pune last week that he did not want to speak on the issue. “Only NCP chief Sharad Pawar and CM Thackeray have spoken,” pointed out an NCP leader.

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