Slamming former ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for withdrawing support to his government, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, in an interview to HT on Tuesday, claimed the NCP’s move was motivated by an apprehension that he would sanction a corruption probe against its ministers in the irrigation scam.
He indicated that the irrigations records were for all to see and could lead Ajit Pawar down the same road as former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa.
Why do you think the NCP withdrew support from the government?
I think it was a well-thought-out plan by the NCP to give the BJP a ten-day advantage before the elections. By pulling out, the NCP served the state to the BJP on a silver platter. There is also talk that this was done because an irrigation file, on a PIL filed by [activist] Pravin Wategaokar, was to come before me for sanction. The court had asked the state why it was not acting on the Madhav Chitale committee report [which probed the irrigation scam]. In response, the anti-corruption bureau had sought an open inquiry against former NCP ministers Sunil Tatkare and Ajit Pawar. I had nothing to do with the open inquiry. I found out about it later, but because it concerned ministers, the file would have come to me, besides the home minister, for sanction. They were probably apprehensive about the action I would take. They have been deeply suspicious about my role in the irrigation controversy. I have had no role to play other than improving irrigation planning in the state.
You said the NCP has a game plan because of which it withdrew support. What is it?
That will be known after the elections. But with the Shiv Sena pulling out, there is a vacuum for a regional party at the Centre. And regional parties prefer to align with the party in power. That is why they were with us. The NCP chief said all the options are now open to them. So, this could be a quid pro quo. They bring down the government, hand over the state to the BJP and in return get accommodated at the Centre.
Were you shocked with the imposition of President’s rule in the state, 18 days before the elections?
I did not expect it at all. When the NCP pulled out of the government, I met the governor. He told me I should continue as caretaker CM. But less than 48 hours later, [Union home minister] Rajnath Singh held a Cabinet meeting on the issue and the President was asked to clear this file on Sunday. He did not even have time to get legal advice.
The NCP blames you for the failure in seat-sharing talks and the subsequent alliance split.
The way the talks were proceeding, I knew they would snap ties. They started the talks with a precondition that they wanted 30 seats more than what they had in the previous election. Despite this demand, the talks continued in Delhi. Then at the last minute, they wanted to share the CM’s post. Why was that demand not made to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi a month ago, when Sharad Pawar was talking to our Delhi leaders? The alliance broke because of a struggle for power and personal ambition.
Ajit Pawar has made an allegation that certain real estate files got cleared swiftly just before the code of conduct was imposed. It is being said you cleared 12 to 20 public parking FSI proposals in a month.
I cleared 40,000 files in four years. As an Urban Development and Housing minister, if I don’t clear these files, who will? There are 200-odd public parking proposals pending. Is there anything illegal in the projects I have cleared? I waited for two years till I had amended the public parking policy to clear projects. I didn’t bring the policy, I corrected it, otherwise we could have just said it is a fraud policy, let’s close it. It envisaged 26-storey public parking lots. I limited public parking to four storeys.
In the recent poll surveys, you seem to be a
favourite for the chief minister’s post
. Your party campaign is also focusing largely on your image as Mr Clean.
When I was sent to Maharashtra, I was given a clear mandate to clean up the existing system. I have tried to do that. But when I started taking decisions, everyone went against me. I have not been able to clean up the system completely because that’s not possible in a coalition government. Yes, recent surveys show people prefer to see me in the CM’s chair. I hope this translates into more votes for my party.