Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis convened a dinner meet at his official Malabar Hills residence with all BJP ministers where he tried to send out a message that the latter should get back to work in their respective departments and not do anything that could be detrimental to the government or the party.
“In the backdrop of the developments that led to the resignation of senior minister Eknath Khadse, the chief minister explained the challenges and responsibilities for the government. There was emphasis on strict adherence to the code of conduct to ensure smooth functioning of the administration,” said a BJP leader present at the meeting.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior cabinet minister said, “The objective of the meeting was to let all the leaders have a heart-to-heart talk with each other in the wake of the developments in the cabinet. It was aimed to dispel misunderstandings or fears among others, if any.”
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To drive home the point that Khadse was not being victimised, it was emphasised how clean chit was issued to him on two controversial charges.
While the Anti-Corruption Bureau gave a clean chit to Khadse’s personal assistant Gajanan Patil who was accused of seeking bribe, the Mumbai Police commissioner issued a clean chit next day on the alleged call received on his mobile phone from fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim.
Urging the ministers to exercise utmost caution while conducting their administrative duties and making statements in public, a senior BJP functionary said at the meeting, “The BJP government will have to work towards refurbishing its public image.”
Senior leaders said Fadnavis was chosen for his clean image, but issuing clean chits to ministers making mistakes would not augur well for the government, the party, or his own image.
The meeting assumes significance as there is speculation that Khadse’s resignation may lead to factionalism within the BJP and the government.
Political observers were saying the resignation of Khadse, who represents the Other Backward Caste (OBC), would lead to polarisation on caste lines in the BJP, though party functionaries have dismissed the argument as baseless.
A party member who was present at the meeting said, “In a cadre-based party, there is always a mechanism for firefighting. We have more than a dozen OBC leaders in the party across regions. In the state cabinet, there are only two upper caste ministers (Devendra Fadnavis and Girish Bapat).”