A Mumbai police team was on the road just an hour away from the residence of 21-year-old Neeraj Bishnoi in Assam, sources tell TNM, when news broke of the Delhi special cell’s Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations (IFSO) team nabbing the accused. Bishnoi has been named the creator and main conspirator of the Bulli Bai app, which aimed to humiliate vocal Muslim women active in public life by putting them up for auction. The arrest comes close on the heels of the Mumbai police’s claim that 18-year-old Shweta Singh, arrested from Uttarakhand, was the mastermind in the case.
Cases were registered with both Delhi and Mumbai police against the Bulli Bai app. The Mumbai police struck first, arresting a 21-year-old from Bengaluru, Vishal Jha. This brought considerable pressure on the Delhi police, which had been unable to make headway in an earlier similar case – Sulli Deals. On social media, women’s right organisations and victims applauded the Mumbai police’s prompt action, and the subsequent arrests by the force also ensured good press.
The Delhi police case, which was until then being handled by the local police, was summarily handed over to the IFSO, after an intervention from the office of Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister for Communications, Electronics & Information Technology. Even as this happened, criticism of the Delhi police’s lackadaisical attitude continued, which forced them to issue a clarification blaming Microsoft owned GitHub’s non-co-operation.
When contacted, KPS Malhotra, DCP (IFSO), however, said that this time around, they arrested the accused using data analysis. When asked about the earlier arrests made by the Mumbai police, Malhotra responded cautiously, “The arrest made by other agency pertains to those who have retweeted or commented on the app, we arrested the creator of the app.” Mumbai’s Commissioner of Police Hemant Nagrale simply said, “We will investigate our case, they will investigate theirs.”
The one-upmanship between Maharashtra police and Delhi police’s special cell is one of the most well-documented police rivalries in the country, usually happening in cases that capture national attention. The IPL spot fixing case in 2013 saw a major clash between Mumbai and Delhi police forces, with each holding competing press conferences, and the Delhi police conducting a stealth operation in Mumbai to arrest cricketer Sreesanth. The Delhi police special cell had also clashed with the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in 2011, crying foul when the ATS arrested their informer Naqi, who they claimed they planted in Mumbai to trace terrorist Yasin Bhatkal. In September last year, the Delhi police special cell arrested Jaan Mohammad, from Mumbai’s Dharavi, under a terror case. A surprised Mumbai police and ATS claimed they had also been monitoring him.
Sources in the Maharashtra Home Department say that the Mumbai police will be seeking custody of Bishnoi at a later stage. Dismissing the Delhi police’s claims of cracking the case, the source further added, “The Mumbai police’s arrests provided them leads, they were quicker this time to reach the location is all.” Indeed, the IFSO lead came from the Twitter account @giyu44, which had contradicted Maharashtra MoS Home Satej Patil’s tweet about Vishal Jha’s arrest, confirmed Malhotra. In the tweet, Bishnoi, who owned the handle @giyu44, claimed responsibility for creating the app. A cursory look at Twitter also suggests that Bishnoi turned over a lot of the evidence to one Shubham Sharma, while pleading the innocence of the other accused.
Most of the earlier clashes between the Maharashtra police and the Delhi special cell were seen as just departmental rivalries among officials who chased self-glory; that the party in power, in both the state and the Centre were the same then, be it the Congress or the BJP, bolstered this belief.
However, the rivalries have now taken a political undertone since the change in government in Maharashtra. Maha Vikas Aghadi leaders called the Delhi police action a face-saver. NCP Minister and national spokesperson Nawab Malik said, “For days, the Delhi police didn’t do anything. There is no breakthrough even now in the Sulli deals case. They were under pressure, they had to show some action after Mumbai police’s crackdown.”
BJP spokesperson Ram Kadam smells a conspiracy. “Earlier there was an attempt to say that this is an act of Hindu extremists. The Maharashtra government has a hidden agenda against Hindus. The conspirator/creator is the main accused. We shouldn’t relate this to religion.” Leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, who did not wish to be named, also wondered if the Delhi police was being activated to keep the focus away from the alleged links of the accused to the BJP IT cell.
Though it may seem that the Delhi police special cell has won the day, Minister Satej Patil seemed to have the last word, “I applaud the efforts of the Delhi police, but had they acted 6 months earlier it’d have been a great service to these women and the nation.”
Kajal Iyer has worked for more than 15 years in broadcast media. She writes on all things Mumbai and loves listening to a good legal argument in court. Views expressed are the author’s own.