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Explained: Who is Sanjay Rathod, Sena minister linked to death of a woman

Soon after the woman’s death, CM Uddhav Thackeray had said a proper inquiry will be conducted in the case and action will be taken against those responsible.

Written by Vishwas Waghmode , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: February 26, 2021 5:15:41 pm
Sanjay Rathod, the Sena minister who is being linked to the death of a woman. Express Photo

With pressure mounting on the Maha Vikas Aghadi government ahead of the budget session of the state legislature – over the death by suicide of a 22-year-old woman in Pune – the Shiv Sena leadership has conveyed to Forest Minister Sanjay Rathod, who is being linked to the death, that he should resign.

Who is Sanjay Rathod?

Sanjay Rathod, 50, is a fourth term Shiv Sena legislator from Digras Assembly Constituency in the Yavatmal district. Rathod is the only Sena minister from the Vidarbha region in the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government. In the previous Devendra Fandnavis-led government, Rathod was Minister of State for Revenue, for five years. Rathod, who belongs to the Banjara community, is known for his aggressive political style, and has a large following in the Banjara community. Rathod did not have a political background, and climbed the ladder in the party from a grassroots leader to district president and now to cabinet minister.

Controversy and his alleged links to woman’s death case

Pooja Chavan, a resident of Parli Vaijanath in Beed district, died after falling from the balcony of an apartment in Pune’s Hadapsar area on February 8. A TikTok star, she, too, was from the Banjara community, and active in community work. She was seen in a few political campaigns. Soon after the death of Chavan, several photos and audio clips surfaced purportedly linking Rathod to her. After her death, Rathod went missing for two weeks, made no public appearance and was not seen in his office in Mantralaya. His absence and his silence increased misgivings about his links to the woman, an aspiring model. It also increased troubles for the MVA government and his party with the BJP alleging that the Shiv Sena was sheltering the minister, and demanding a free and fair investigation into her death.

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Investigation and status of woman’s death

The Pune police registered an accidental death (AD) case as per procedure with the Wanawadi police station, and are treating it is as a case of suicide. Chavan’s family has not filed any complaint so far with the police. However, with several photos and audio clips allegedly showing that the two knew each other, BJP has alleged that the police is under pressure and that is why the case is not being investigated thoroughly. In a show of his huge following, the Banjara community has stood behind Rathod, rather than the woman.

Rathod on the controversy

On Tuesday, Rathod, who reached Pohradevi, considered to be the most sacred shrine of the Banjara community in Washim district, broke his silence on the issue for the first time. He claimed innocence and alleged that politics was being played to destroy his career. However, thousands of Rathod’s supporters gathered at Pohradevi violated Covid-19 norms and it was also against CM Uddhav Thackeray’s ban imposed on Sunday on all social, religious and political gatherings in the state in wake of rising Covid-19 cases.

As a result, Thackeray ordered the district administration to initiate action against those responsible for crowding thus landing Rathod in further trouble.

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What is at stake for Shiv Sena and the MVA government

Soon after the woman’s death, Thackeray had said a proper inquiry will be conducted in the case and action will be taken against those responsible. However, Sena leaders said his absence from the public for two weeks after the woman’s death and the crowding at Pohradevi did not go down well with the party chief and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

On Wednesday, the issue of Rathod’s resignation was discussed when he met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. “During the meeting, the CM told him — ‘take a decision yourself rather than waiting for me to act’. It will not look good to dismiss a minister. The CM wants Rathod to resign in the next two days before the commencement of the Budget Session of the state legislature,” a senior Sena leader said on condition of anonymity.

The leader further said there is consensus in the government and among MVA allies over Rathod’s resignation. “It is a question about the image of the government, the party and the CM. There is a consensus in the government that Rathod should resign. Even NCP chief Sharad Pawar has conveyed to the CM that it is a convention to accept the resignation of a minister when serious allegations are levelled,” the leader added.

The leader also said that Rathod’s resignation is the only way out to silence the opposition, which has been criticising the government and Thackeray over the issue in the last few days, and prevent it from becoming an issue during the Assembly session.

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