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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Sharad Pawar digs heels in: No need for Deshmukh to go, evidence backs him

NCP chief Sharad Pawar went on the offensive Monday by disputing key elements of the allegations against his party’s leader and firmly ruling out his resignation from the Cabinet.

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh | Mumbai |
Updated: March 23, 2021 4:39:14 am
NCP chief Sharad Pawar addresses the media at his residence in New Delhi on Monday. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

WITH POLITICAL pressure rising over the corruption charges levelled against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh by former Mumbai police chief Param Bir Singh, NCP chief Sharad Pawar went on the offensive Monday by disputing key elements of the allegations against his party’s leader and firmly ruling out his resignation from the Cabinet.

Pawar said he has evidence to prove that Deshmukh was ailing and in hospital at the time he was said to be discussing a Rs 100-crore extortion racket with police officers in February, as alleged by the former Police Commissioner in a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

With the Opposition BJP questioning Pawar’s claim and issuing a video that showed Deshmukh “addressing a press conference” on February 15, Deshmukh issued a statement saying that he merely spoke to “journalists standing outside the gate of the hospital who wanted to ask questions” on the day he was discharged.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, however, maintained silence on the allegations against Deshmukh even as the third alliance partner, Congress, came out in support of the Home Minister. Senior leaders of the BJP, meanwhile, said they would meet Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari on March 24 to raise the confrontation between Deshmukh and Singh.

Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Pawar said: “The former CP in his letter has mentioned that in mid-February he was briefed by certain officers that they got such and such instructions from the Home Minister. I have documentary evidence that Deshmukh from February 5 to 15 was admitted in a hospital named Elixis in Nagpur due to corona. The hospital has given a certificate certifying that he was admitted.”

Pawar said that Deshmukh was discharged on February 15 and advised home quarantine till February 27, and that he had spent this period in Nagpur. “The CP is his letter has talked about instructions from the HM about collection of money and how he had called (Assistant Police Inspector Sachin) Waze to his office during mid-February. However, during this time Deshmukh was in Nagpur,” he said.

Pawar said that in view of this “factual information”, there was no need to ask for Deshmukh to resign. “There is disparity in the time schedule given by Singh in his letter and the factual information that has been gathered. In view of this, the question of taking any action against Deshmukh does not arise,” he said.

“This information establishes that Deshmukh was in hospital during the said period. In view of this, the question of seeking his resignation does not arise,” Pawar said.

In an eight-page letter sent to Thackeray Saturday, Param Bir Singh alleged that Deshmukh had in mid-February asked Waze, who was later arrested by the NIA in the bomb care case, to collect Rs 100 crore every month, including Rs 40-50 crore from around 1,750 bars and restaurants in Mumbai.

Singh also wrote that a different set of police officers had met the Home Minister on March 4 when the issue of collecting money was raised again. Pawar was silent on this allegation.

In his statement on the video released by the BJP, Deshmukh said: “I was in a hospital in Nagpur from February 5-15. I was discharged on February 15 and as I was stepping out, there were journalists standing outside the gate of the hospital who wanted to ask questions. As I was feeling weak, I sat on a chair and gave replies to a few questions. I then went home and was under home quarantine till February 27. The first time I stepped out of my house was on February 28.”

On Sunday, Pawar had placed the onus of tackling the allegations on Thackeray. On Monday, he once again criticised Singh for keeping quiet on the issue for so long. “The CP met the Deputy CM, the CM and me in the third week of March. This incident that he claimed with the HM occurred in the second week of February. Why did he wait this long to make these allegations? He has disclosed this only after he was transferred,” he said.

Pawar claimed that the “entire episode” stemmed from a motive to divert attention from the investigations into the Antilia bomb scare and Mansukh Hiran murder cases.

“Some people have made these claims just to divert attention from the investigations in the cases. These vague allegations were made and I honestly feel the motive was to divert attention… The truth is, however, now coming out,” Pawar said, referring to the Maharashtra ATS’s arrest of two suspects in the Hiran murder case.

Meanwhile, senior state Congress leaders Balsaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan met Thackeray. “We feel that these allegations are part of a larger conspiracy to destabilise the government. There is no question of Deshmukh resigning,” Thorat, who is also State Revenue Minister, said.

Senior BJP leader and former finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar confirmed that a party delegation would meet the Governor Wednesday but clarified that they would not demand President’s rule.

“It is our ardent appeal to the Governor…to send a detailed report to President Ram Nath Kovind on the developments in the state. The Governor is the Constitutional authority and head of Maharashtra. He has the right to ask for a factual report from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and the Chief Secretary,” Mungantiwar said.

“When a Police Commissioner through a letter says the Home Minister had called Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze and other police officials and told them to collect Rs 100 crore every month from liquor shops, bars, etc., it cannot be dismissed lightly,” he said.

In his letter, Singh also suggested that he was being made a “scapegoat” and that his transfer to the Home Guards was the price he had to pay for resisting the Home Minister’s “interference” in the work of the force. —(With Shubhangi Khapre)

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