Chhagan Chandrakant Bhujbal is, according to his website, “the master of dramatic turnaround. Not only his political career, but also his commendable body of work speaks of his ability to shape a miracle out of nothing (sic).” Five years after the website was created, its lofty claims will face their sternest test yet.
A day after 16 properties that belong to him and his associates were raided by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate on Wednesday filed two cases of money-laundering against Bhujbal , his son Pankaj, nephew Sameer and others.
This means Bhujbal’s political career faces its greatest existential threat since the Telgi stamp papers scam forced him to step down as deputy chief minister and take a break from politics in 2004.
While his return to politics a few years after the Telgi scam was a testament to his resilience, things are different this time around. Bhujbal, now 67, doesn’t have age on his side, and NCP leaders said he doesn't have as much to offer the party any more.
And, it appears, the NCP has little to offer him, having held only one press conference in Bhujbal’s defence. It was addressed by party spokesperson Nawab Malik and no other senior leaders were present. Apart from former minister Madhukar Pichad, who criticised the ACB raids, no leader has come out in support of Bhujbal, his son or his nephew, all of whom hold positions in the party.
A source close to Bhujbal confirmed that his family was troubled by the lack of support from the NCP. “Pawar sahib himself has not said a word, despite holding press conferences for his bid to be the Mumbai Cricket Association’s chairman. This, along with the party’s general lack of public support, has upset the family,” the source said. Bhujbal, however, continues to claim that he has the party’s support.
Bhujbal said on Wednesday night that the ACB had got many details of his properties and assets wrong. “It got the size of my flat wrong and in one case, doubled the size of my Worli house. There are homes that we have inherited, which have been counted as my earned assets. There is also a property that is not even owned by us, which has been counted as an asset,” Bhujbal said. “The government and police are free to conduct their inquiries. But by lodging false cases and not cross-checking their allegations, they must at least not defame me,” he added.
Though his close acolytes have little doubt he will be back, others close to Bhujbal said his body language and behaviour convey a sense of defeat. “He is trying to be defiant but one can clearly sense that he is under stress and that he isn’t his normal, combative self,” said a fellow NCP leader, who did not wish to be named.