Eknath Khadse, 63, still greets visitors with a warm smile and a handshake but finds it difficult to conceal that he is under pressure.
The impatience shows in the bitterness with which he attacks those behind the allegations against him, one involving a land deal in Pune and another about supposed mobile conversations with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. It must be the work of his rivals within the BJP, the Maharashtra revenue minister concludes.
“In the past, a similar campaign was launched against Nitin Gadkari. I think I am being targeted as I am the most senior minister in the government. An attack on me puts unknown people on centre-stage,” he said.
For the last one week, he has set aside his administrative duties to try and salvage his image. He has set up his own independent team to investigate and find out who is behind the allegations.
Some aspects of his demeanour remain unchanged, however. For example, he still breaks into a snatch of song whenever he wants to express himself, 1970s-80s Bollywood remaining his favourite. “Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi hairan hoon main,” he sang Thursday.
The series of allegations has come as a blow to a leader who so often took on the Congress-NCP over corruption in the assembly when he was Leader of the Opposition between 2010 and 2014. First, his personal aide Gajanan Patil was arrested by the anti-corruption bureau for allegedly seeking a bribe from a entrepreneur. Later, the ACB gave Khadse and his staff a clean chit. Now comes the alleged land deal in Bhosari, Pune, with activist Anjali Damania alleging that Khadse’s son-in-law Pranjal Khewalkar owns an illegally acquired limousine.
“Dragging in my son-in-law’s name is cheap politics. My son-in-law graduated from IIT. They are not beggars. They can easily afford a luxurious car,” said Khadse, who has filed a defamation suit against Damania.
“What are the credentials of Anjali Damania who has accused me of land deals and a phone call to Dawood?” he said. “Do you think people were foolish when they reposed their faith in me? There is not a single election I have ever lost from my constituency, Muktainagar in Jalgaon district.”
He won his first election from his home constituency in 1987 and has been MLA from there for six terms. In 1995, when the Shiv Sena-BJP was voted to power for the first time, Khadse became the finance minister.
Khadse’s political rise has been steady rather than meteoric. Seen as a close friend of the late Gopinath Munde, Khadse has never come across as greatly dynamic or been known for dramatic delivery of speeches. The speeches he does make, nevertheless, are invariably packaged with witty punches at his political opponents.
Even as minister, the aggression of an opposition leader has remained whenever he has risen in the assembly to speak on issues of government. Khadse holds 10 portfolios including revenue and agriculture.
In 2014, after the BJP was voted to power, he publicly said he was a deserving candidate for chief minister. And when he failed to get the chair, he expressed his disappointment among party workers. He seems to have weathered that disappointment since. “Well, I am number two in the government,” he joked during the winter session in Nagpur. “In fact, the number of portfolios I hold is more than even the CM does.”
A farmer, Khadse often drives a tractor in his village. His wife Mandakini spends most of her time in their farmhouse in the village. They have two daughters, Sharada Chaudhuri and Rohini Khelwalkar. They lost their son Nikhil four years ago. Their younger daughter-in-law, Raksha Khadse, is a BJP MP.