An Aston Martin Rapide – “a four-door high-performance sport saloon” -rammed into two cars late Saturday night, December 7, 2013 at Peddar Road in Mumbai, transforming itself from a Rs 3.5 crore-worth luxury sports car into ugly metal scrap. What has followed since has ranged from subtle innuendos to outright allegations against some of the most powerful and rich of Mumbai – and India.
A black Aston Martin Rapide (MH-O1-BK99) – driven at a very high speed according to eyewitnesses – rammed into an Audi (MH14-DN-6666) from behind as reported here. As a result of the impact, the Audi, driven by Foram Ruparel, a resident of Ghatkopar area, jumped the divider on the road and hit a private bus coming from the opposite direction. The Aston Martin, then hit a Hyundai Elantra belonging to Vikram Mishra. In the ensuing chaos, the driver of the Aston Martin managed to flee in one of the two SUVs which were trailing it. A hit-and-run case like this is pretty routine nowadays in Delhi and Mumbai. However, what is not routine – and has been very conveniently overlooked by many in the media – was the fact that the Aston Martin was registered in the name of Reliance Ports and Terminals Limited which is owned by Mukesh Ambani.
Foram Ruparel, who was driving the Audi, lodged a complaint. Bansilal Joshi, 55, a driver employed with Reliance, presented himself at the Gamdevi police station on Sunday afternoon – December 8, 2013 – and accepted responsibility for the accident. This was almost 12 hours after the accident. However, as word spread, witnesses have started popping up with their version of events. A version of events, which makes this entire episode seem uncannily similar to the plot of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger where the protagonist, Balram, who works as a driver for a rich family, is made to own up to a very similar car accident his boss’s wife is involved in.
One of the occupants of a car hit by the speeding Aston Martin was quoted by Mumbai Mirror – one of the very few media outlets to have covered the story in detail – as saying that she saw a young man in the driver’s seat. Another witness, not willing to be named, told Newslaundry that the person helped out of the Aston Martin after it finally came to a standstill “was a young guy and not a moustached old man as everyone is being made to believe”. In a telephonic conversation with Newslaundry, Varish Mishra, who was in the Elantra which was pulverised in the accident and which had a pregnant lady as one of its occupants said, “the Aston Martin continued to travel on three wheels for a long time and came to a halt more than 400 metres away from the original spot of accident, so you can imagine its speed”.
The media’s rather cautious and measured approach to the story, particularly in light of its aggressive coverage of other recent hit and run cases, is difficult not to notice. Hindustan Times’ report on the accident says that the driver worked for a “private firm” and never once mentions the car’s Reliance affiliation. The Times of India which published a story on December 9, 2013 with the headline – “Reliance employee takes responsibility for accident involving Aston Martin” has removed the report from its website without any corrigendum. While Google still contains the link to the story, clicking on it leads to a dead link. On the evening on December 11, 2013, TOI published an edited version of the same report on its site without any mention of Reliance, choosing to call it “a national-level firm”. We tried contacting TOI for an explanation for this editorial decision, but received no response. Times Now, which is based out of Mumbai, has totally ignored the story as well. DNA has also removed their news report on the incident.
We SMSed Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN on December 11, 2013 to ask why the channel had not yet reported on the incident. He informed us that they would be carrying the report that evening. The report was also carried on December 11, 2013 at 7.30pm on www.ibnlive.com. Reliance Group has investments in Network 18.
The facts as reported in the news are as follows. Reliance Industries has released a statement that the driver was out at 1.30 a.m. all by himself for a test run. The Aston Martin which was on a test drive, manned by a driver, was trailed by two SUVs – one of which whisked the driver away after the accident. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen a young, clean-shaven, portly man being helped out of the damaged Aston Martin. The man who presented himself in the police station is 55 years old and has a moustache. The only resemblance he has to the eyewitness’ description of the fleeing driver is his hefty build.
The Mumbai Police has been trying to gather forensic evidence – which will be a difficult task, considering more than five people handled the car after the accident – and hasn’t made any arrests. What is curious is that most media houses have chosen not to report on the incident and why the ones that did do so, have removed the reports since.