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Behind NCP support, 42 MLAs — and 1 file to probe Ajit Pawar

The NCP offered unconditional outside support to the BJP, which at 123 seats is 22 short of a clear majority.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar , Vaidyanathan Iyer | New Delhi |
Updated: October 20, 2014 9:27:18 am

As talks go on over who will take the BJP past half-way mark in the Maharashtra Assembly, a file recommending “open inquiry” against NCP leaders Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare has been sitting on the desk of Maharashtra’s top-most bureaucrat for more than 40 days now.

According to state government officials, Director General (Anti-Corruption Bureau) Praveen Dixit had on August 22 sought the state home department’s approval for an “open inquiry” against Pawar and Tatkare, both of whom had held the water resources portfolio in the previous Congress-NCP government.

Activist Pravin Wategaonkar had alleged that a dozen irrigation projects had been awarded to a particular group violating state government rules.

The NCP, which won 42 seats in the Assembly elections, on Sunday offered unconditional outside support to the BJP, which at 123 seats is 22 short of a clear majority.

While Pawar, the nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, was deputy chief minister in the Congress-NCP government, Tatkare is the NCP state chief.

Upon receiving the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s request, the home department led by Additional Chief Secretary Amitabh Rajan did its own homework, studying the report of the Madhav Chitale committee, submitted to the state government on March 1. It also studied the Comptroller and Auditor General’s performance audit report on management of irrigation projects.

Rajan, sources said, expanded the scope of the “open inquiry” to include other officials, including those belonging to irrigation corporations. “In open inquiry, we just need permission to go through records to ascertain the facts and accountability of decisions taken by those in public positions,” an official in the home department said. In public interest, the official said, the home department acceded to the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s request and recommended an open inquiry at the earliest.

On September 1, officials said, the home department submitted a 31-page file to Chief Secretary Swadhin Kshatriya. He, in turn, referred the file to Additional Chief Secretary (Protocol) Sumit Mullick, who sent the file to the state Secretary (Legal). The latter sought Advocate General Darius Khambata’s views.

Sources said Khambata had made “positive” recommendations and submitted the file to the Chief Secretary, and the home department had also sent a reminder to Kshatriya regarding action taken on recommendations in the file. When contacted, Kshatriya told The Indian Express, “I will not comment on the issue at this point of time.”

With Prithviraj Chavan quitting as chief minister on September 26 after the NCP announced its break-up with the Congress, the Chief Secretary was required to seek the permission of Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao. Anil Baijal, the advisor to Rao, said he had no information if the file had been referred to the governor’s office.

While the BJP hadn’t revealed its cards till late Sunday, sources in the NCP said “the offer of support to the party had been made following informal deliberations held with BJP leaders”. Much is being read into the fact that in a tweet on October 16, NCP leader Praful Patel said the party would play a crucial role in Maharashtra government formation.

The NCP’s announcement of support came almost immediately after it became clear that the party, which had partnered the Congress to rule Maharashtra for 15 years, had been relegated to the fourth position, winning 41 seats.

While the NCP’s vote share increased marginally from 16.37 per cent in 2009, the party faced a tough time defending its own seats and could not make many fresh inroads. Though its traditional citadel — the sugar belt in Western and Southern Maharashtra — remained largely intact, the NCP suffered massive reversals in its stronghold of Pune.

The development is also being dubbed the ‘Pune pattern’, since the NCP had earlier tied up with the BJP and Shiv Sena in Pune’s municipality.

During the campaign, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had repeatedly accused the NCP of entering into a “hidden pact” with the BJP. There has also been talk that Narendra Modi was keen to have Pawar in his government, and that the Union Defence Ministry had been identified for him.

Why NCP is supporting BJP

# Needs govt support to retain clout in cooperatives sector that drives rural economy. Cong is the bigger rival here.

# With senior NCP leaders facing corruption charges, it helps to have the government on its side.

# NCP’s economic outlook is similar to the BJP’s.

# BJP can use NCP to keep Sena, Cong in check.

#  Sharad Pawar insists he won’t join government, but he could be a valuable, experienced addition to the Modi ministry.

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