The BJP government in Maharashtra may have sprung to the defence of women and child welfare minister Pankaja Munde, but insiders say she could be in trouble because of the brazen way in which rules were flouted while awarding contracts worth Rs 206 crore, and because her defence does not seem to hold up to scrutiny. Also, the allegations against Munde come just days ahead of the monsoon session of the state legislature, giving the Congress and other parties a big stick with which to beat the government.
An indication of the trouble ahead came from Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who said the allegations against Munde were ‘serious’, and from Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who threatened to “expose the corruption of three more ministers” during the monsoon session.
Also telling is Fadvanis’s cautious defence of his minister. While the CM has given Munde his backing, he said on Thursday that an inquiry would be ordered if the food items and other materials supplied were found sub-standard.
Two other senior ministers who defended Munde - Eknath Khadse and Sudhir Mungantiwar – said that while there were no irregularities, the charges would be investigated if the opposition had documents to support their claims.
Many in the BJP believe the controversy is a result of infighting in the party caused by Munde’s meteoric rise, which has angered a section of the leadership. The Parli MLA was promoted to the core committee and eventually to the cabinet last October, following the death of her father Gopinath Munde in a car crash in Delhi.
While Munde has the backing of a group loyal to her father, she has rattled others with her admission of chief ministerial ambitions.
Munde’s defence was that the contracts were awarded in a hurry as a Rs122-crore package her ministry had received from the central government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme was on the verge of lapsing.
However, an official in the ministry of women and child development said this was not the case. “The minister claimed central funds were on the verge of lapsing, but the fact is one-and-a-half months remained. The department could have taken its time and completed the process by the end of the financial year, but it flouted rules on the direction of ministers,” the official said.