February 24, 2021 1:08:41 am
Making his first public appearance since he was linked to the death of Pooja Chavan, a 22-year-old woman who allegedly died by suicide in Pune two weeks ago, State Forest Minister Sanjay Rathod appeared at Pohradevi on Tuesday. The Shiv Sena leader claimed innocence in the matter and said his name was being linked to the case because of “sordid politics”.
Pohradevi, located at Manora tahsil of Washim district, is considered to be the most sacred shrine of the Banjara community, to which Rathod belongs.
Rathod arrived at the shrine around 1 pm with thousands of his supporters crowding the place, violating all Covid-19 norms. Rathod and his wife also performed puja, with several mahants (religious gurus) of the community performing the rituals.
Addressing mediapersons, he said, “The Banjara community has been deeply saddened by the death of Pooja Chavan and we are all with her aggrieved family in this tragedy. But the sordid politics being done in this matter in Maharashtra is completely wrong and baseless.”
He alleged, “This is an attempt to destroy 30 years of political, personal and social life. I can tell you with guarantee that whatever is being shown in news media as well as social media has no iota of truth. The chief minister has ordered an inquiry and the police are probing the matter. The truth will come out soon. I request all not to defame me, my family and my community.”
Rathod denied that he was “hiding” for 14 days after the aspiring model’s alleged suicide. “I was in Mumbai, at my residence, for 10 days, not 14 days. And I was also doing my regular work from there,” he said.
The minister also claimed that he was with his family, including his children and his parents, and had to take care of them amidst the “campaign” against him. “Today, I have come to this holy place and will resume my work as usual after leaving this place,” he said.
Rathod exhorted the media not to ask him any questions about his alleged involvement in the case. “Don’t put me in the wrong box please. Let the inquiry findings come out,” said Rathod.
Rathod’s Pohradevi visit is being seen as his show of strength to put his own government under pressure. Chavan’s parents have already denied his involvement in her death, and, with thousands of his supporters turning up at Pohradevi despite prohibitory orders, the case might prove to be difficult for the Maha Vikas Aghadi government to negotiate. The Banjara community’s religious head, Babu Singh Maharaj, has also lent his support to the minister, making it further difficult for the government to take a political call in the case.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has ordered a probe into the violation of Covid restrictions during Rathod’s Pohradevi visit. Washim Police have registered offences under relevant sections of Covid-related laws against 10 persons, along with “8,000-10,000 others”.
“We had issued prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the IPC. We had also managed to prevent vehicles from entering within 10 km of Pohradevi. But thousands of people from neighbouring villages did manage to sneak in through the forest and reached the place. There were about 8,000-10,000 people on the premises there,” said Washim Superintendent of Police Vasant Pardeshi.
Rathod couldn’t be reached for comments.
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