Most of the 1990s generation absolutely loved the 'Aati kya Khandala' song from an Aamir Khan starrer. The hill station in Maharashtra saw a massive jump in tourist influx, courtesy the blockbuster success of movie. Khandala was in the news again some days ago, though obviously not for booming tourism in the time of coronavirus. It was because the Wadhawan brothers, being chased by the investigation agencies for their role in an alleged bank scam, chose the Maharashtra town
The ordinary citizens can't even think of a Mumbai-Khandala trip right now. But if you are among the rich and famous, even a road trip from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar can be given a shot at—even in these times. Even when the country's top investigation agencies are after you.
That's exactly what the Wadhawan brothers—DHFL promoter Kapil Wadhawan and RKW Developers' Dheeraj Wadhawan who are facing non-bailable warrants in a case related to Yes Bank—tried their hand at and almost got away with it too.
A senior IPS officer—Amitabh Gupta, Principal Secretary (Special), Home Department—gave the Wadhawans a green signal to travel with 21 members of their families from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar in five luxury vehicles, openly flouting the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in place throughout the country.
Gupta's letter, issued on his personal letterhead, was addressed ‘to whomsoever it may concern' letter and permitted the Wadhawan family members to travel from Khandala (Pune) to Mahabaleshwar (Satara).
If it weren't for some swift action by the Mahabaleshwar Police, neither the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) nor the Enforcement Directorate (ED) would have been able to lay their hands on the brothers who have been absconding since the investigations began in the Yes Bank probe.
Caught in an embarrassing position, the Maharashtra government ordered an enquiry against the senior IPS officer. "We will conduct an inquiry to find out how 23 members of Wadhwan family travelled to Mahabaleshwar. As per discussion with Hon. CM, Mr Amitabh Gupta, Principal Secretary (special), has been sent on compulsory leave with immediate effect, till the pending of enquiry, which will be initiated against him. #LawSameForEveryone," tweeted state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.
However, this action hasn't satisfied many. "There’s a probe against Wadhawans, Police officials know about this, still a senior bureaucrat gives such a letter, it means that the officer must be under the ‘blessing’ of a powerful person. I don’t think there’ll be a fair investigation on who instructed the bureaucrat to issue such a letter," Bharatiya Janata Party Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis and former chief minister told a news channel.
BJP state vice-president Kirit Somaiya went a step ahead and demanded Anil Deshmukh's scalp. "Wadhawan brothers VVIP treatment scam by Thackeray Sarkar, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh should resign," tweeted Somaiya.
The Wadhawans choosing not to appear before the CBI but finding time to escape for a family vacation is likely to rile the ordinary Indian, who's sincerely following the lockdown from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from the sand dunes in the west to the remote villages of the North-East.
"The sheer body language of the scamsters #Wadhawans and their convoys in the videos of their inter-city travel amid #lockdownindia shows a brazenness. These are things that encourage and justify left extremism," tweeted senior journalist Madhavan Narayanan.
"Unbelievable! #Wadhawans went on a picnic during #lockdown! There's something amiss: the letter's vocabulary & that Home Secretary issued a personalised letter on his own accord—seems fishy. Authorities must search the real culprit. None can be above the law & administration," tweeted Vijay Darda, chairman of the Lokmat Group.
None above the law—we hope so..