The arrest of senior NCP leader and Lok Sabha MP Padamsinh Patil in a murder case has rattled his party four months ahead of the assembly polls in Maharashtra.
As NCP completes 10 years of its formation this week, the surfacing of Patil's name in the murder of his cousin and Congress leader Pawanraje Nimbalkar has put the party in the backfoot, even as party chief Sharad Pawar steered clear of making any comment and only said that the "law will take its own course" in the case.
The development, which comes three years after Nimbalkar was gunned down on June 3, 2006, has also put the spotlight on Patil, a former medico, who has held sway over Marathwada's Osmanabad region for around two decades.
The former Maharashtra minister, a relative of Pawar, was elected to the state assembly for seven consecutive terms from 1978 but was forced to take a backseat in 2004 after winning by a mere 484 votes. NCP replaced him with son Jagjitsingh in the state ministry.
It was from his son's official residence that Patil was whisked away by the CBI team last night.
Patil won the Osmanabad seat by just over 6,000 votes defeating Shiv Sena rival Ravi Gaikwad, a poll verdict which surprised many in the ruling Congress-NCP alliance as the perception was that the Sena nominee was better placed.
Reacting to Patil's arrest, an emotional Omraje, son of Pawanraje, has demanded that "those guilty in my father's murder must be hanged.
No stranger to controversy, Patil was among the four ministers accused of corruption by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare.
Patil was indicted in a report by the Justice Sawant Commission, which was set up to probe the charges made by Hazare.
Others indicted were then Minister for Technical and Higher Education Sureshdada Jain (now with Sena), Labour Minister Nawab Malik and Tribal Development Minister Vijaykumar Gavit.
Patil's arrest follows a statement by one of the accused Parasmal Jain, who claimed that Patil asked him to eliminate Nimbalkar due to business rivalry.
Reeling under the political fallout of the allegations, Patil recently said "Pawanraje was my cousin and I was the one to press for a thorough probe into the murder."
The allegations were part of a "malicious political campaign to malign my image," he said. Terming Jain as a police informer, the Lok Sabha member had said this was an attempt by his political rivals to link him with the crime.
As he was taken to a court in neighbouring Panvel today, Patil maintained that he was "innocent".
"I am innocent. This is all wrong... What is happening. I am being falsely implicated," he said.
"I am confident that CBI will probe the case and (eventually) I will be released. I have nothing to do with the case," Patil said.