Faced with charges of corruption in a Pune land deal and alleged phone calls to fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse resigned on Saturday. This is the first blow to the Devendra Fadnavis government, which had come to power with a promise of delivering corruption-free governance.
Chief Minister Fadnavis had to crack the whip on Khadse as the government could not defend its senior minister’s alleged blatant violation of rules in the land deal. The resignation is seen as a way to refurbish the image of his government, and also that of the party which has been dented at a time when the Narendra Modi government at the Centre celebrates its second anniversary with the slogan of “no tolerance for corruption”.
Fadnavis’s own image had taken a beating after he had given a clean chit in two cases involving Khadse — one related to his personal assistant’s alleged bribe deal, and the phone callsallegedly exchanged with Dawood.
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But with evidence related to the land deals emerging, it was seemingly difficult to justify Khadse’s presence in his ministry.
Moreover, the decision also helps Fadnavis reassert his leadership and send a strong message to other ministers to mind their steps and not take things for granted. Education Minister Vinod Tawde and Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde had also courted controversies in the past, even as the two had contended that the charges were baseless.
Unwilling to give up his post, a defiant Khadse is learnt to have finally yielded after BJP national general secretary Ramlal directed him to submit his resignation to the Chief Minister . “I have received Khadse’s resignation and forwarded it to the Governor,” Fadnavis said. Governor C H Vidyasagar Rao accepted the resignation based on the Chief Minister’s recommendation in the evening.
While combating corruption that has hugely dented the party’s image, the BJP brass was also confronted with providing an honourable exit to Khadse, who represents the party’s OBC face in north Maharashtra. The BJP has 20 MLAs and six MPs from the region.
Khadse was accompanied by senior ministers Sudhir Mungantiwar and Vinod Tawde when he announced his resignation. There were no signs of any elected members or party office-bearers rallying around in his support at the party headquarters or outside.
In what appears a planned move, Khadse was told to announce his own resignation, while BJP state leaders aggressively defended him by arguing his innocence. However, the entire drama at the party headquarters was to negate the possible political ramifications, sensing the undercurrents of Khadse evoking the OBC card to unsettle the organisation.
The party leaders may not be wrong in their apprehensions. Three hours after his resignation, Khadse, in what appeared to be a warning, said, “My supporters are terribly upset and threatening to take to the streets and arson. But I have asked them against resorting to violence to express their anger against my resignation.”
At the media conference, a visibly shaken Khadse said, “I have taken a decision to resign as baseless charges against me are part of a larger campaign to undermine my party and tarnish my image. However, I demand all allegations should be investigated to ascertain the facts in a short period. I am confident I have done nothing wrong, and I would come back.”
In a shrewd move, Khadse also equated himself with BJP patriarch L K Advani (in hawala case) and Union minister Nitin Gadkari (Purti case), saying, “In the past, they also faced corruption charges but nothing came out against them. So they were taken back.”
Responding to Khadse’s demand for a quick probe, Fadnavis said, “We will appoint a retired high court judge to conduct inquiry into all allegations against Khadse.”
Stating that Khadse’s contribution to the BJP “cannot be undermined”, state BJP chief Raosaheb Danve said, “The party will continue to support him, and believes he has not done anything wrong.”
Khadse’s exit from government was evident after Fadnavis submitted a factual report to BJP president Amit Shah related to allegedly murky land deal at Bhosari in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune. Apart from conflict of interest, the case also pointed to Khadse’s direct dealing in the plot, which was brought in the name of his wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Chaudhuri.
Party insiders said before putting in his resignation, Khadse made a demand that his name should be “cleared in all the charges at the earliest”. A BJP leader said, “A lot of deliberations had been carried out before taking action against Khadse. It was felt that the OBC card cannot make them hostage to cover up corruption.”