Senior BJP leader and state minister Girish Mahajan Thursday faced an onslaught from the Opposition for attending the wedding of a relative of Dawood Ibrahim. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the Opposition was “stretching the issue”. After reports that Mahajan and three other BJP MLAs had attended the wedding of Dawood’s niece in Nashik on May 19, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) raised the demand for Mahajan’s resignation.
Mahajan, the minister for Water Resources and Medical Education in the Maharashtra government, is considered in political circles as a trusted aide of the Chief Minister. He is also Nashik’s guardian minister. Fadnavis confirmed he had called for a report from the police into the presence of the minister at the event. He told The Indian Express, “I have asked Nashik Commissioner of Police Ravindra Singhal to submit a report on the issue. A preliminary briefing by him reveals that the minister was invited by a very reputed Muslim religious leader, who is respected across communities.”
Mahajan has said that he was unaware of the fact that the bride’s family was linked to the gangster. “I went there on the invitation of Muslim community leader Shahar A Khateeb, who is a much respected religious leader in Nashik.” The groom happened to be Khateeb’s nephew. “He has contributed a lot to social activities in the region and that’s how I came to know him,” Mahajan said.
Singhal, when contacted, said that Khateeb and his family had no previous history of any criminal activity. He further said that Khateeb was a highly respected figure. The Opposition has demanded a high-level probe over the minister’s presence at the wedding.
Congress leader Sachin Sawant said, “The presence of a senior minister and three other BJP MLAs at the wedding of a close relative of the country’s most wanted gangster is shocking. There are reports that several criminal elements and bookies from across India were present at the wedding. We are demanding an Intelligence Bureau probe into the episode. It must be probed if the minister and the three BJP MLAs are connected with Dawood’s family and his activities,” the Congress leader said.
Last year, former BJP minister Eknath Khadse, who was dropped from the Fadnavis cabinet over graft allegations, had faced allegations that he had received calls from the underworld don’s residence. But the police had later given him a clean chit in the matter. It booked the complainant over charges of fabricating call records and raising false allegations.
Both Khadse and Mahajan hail from Jalgaon district and are seen as arch rivals within the BJP circles.
Sawant also demanded that the chief minister must sack Mahajan in the interest of a fair probe. Besides Mahajan, reports suggested that BJP legislators Devyani Farande, Balasaheb Sanap and Seema Hiray were also present at the wedding, along with Nashik’s mayor Ranjana Bhanasi and deputy mayor Prathmesh Gite (both from the BJP).
Former Maharashtra deputy CM and NCP leader Ajit Pawar also sought Mahajan’s sacking. “They (the BJP) had defamed Sharad Pawar (NCP chief) even when he was not remotely connected to Dawood. Now their own senior minister has been found attending a wedding of Dawood’s relative. This government is trying to cover up the matter. Mahajan should be made to resign for his grave mistake.”
But Fadnavis, when contacted, accused the Opposition of blowing the matter out of proportion. “The Opposition is stretching the issue too far. The preliminary report shows that the minister and the MLA were invited by the religious leader who has no previous (criminal) history. I will get a final report soon,” Fadnavis said.
Singhal, meanwhile, said that the police had recorded the statement of ten policemen who were present there too. “All of them have confirmed that they attended the wedding. They have said that they were also invited by Khateeb and that they were not aware of the bride’s relation with the underworld don. We are carrying out further inquiries,” Singhal said. One superintendent of police, two police inspectors, three police sub-inspectors and five other policemen reportedly attended the wedding.
Incidentally, Singhal said, the criminal past of the bride’s father, Zaki Kokani, was being looked into. “There are reports of some cases filed against him in the past. We are collecting more details,” Singhal said.