MUMBAI: Social activist Anjali Damania began her hunger strike at Azad Maidan on Thursday, demanding the resignation of revenue minister Eknath Khadse and a time-bound investigation into allegations against him.
After Damania’s strike began, supporters of the minister arrived at Azad Maidan, where they chanted pro-Khadse slogans. The police tightened security in the area to prevent a confrontation.
Damania accused Khadse’s supporters of trying to stifle her protest. “When Khadse’s supporters got to know that I was going to hold my hunger strike here, they booked a major portion of Azad Maidan and are trying to muzzle my protest,” she said. She asserted, however, that she would continue her agitation until the state government acceded to her demands.
Damania has demanded a court-monitored investigation, to be completed within six months, and the constitution of a special fast-track court.
Khadse’s supporters set up a huge stage at Azad Maidan to counter her protest. Mohammad Amir, chairman of the Minority Commission, termed it a political conspiracy against the revenue minister. “He is being unfairly targeted by vested interests,” said Amir. “We have organised this meeting to show the state government that we are firmly behind Khadse and that he should not be made to resign,” he added.
Damania had originally planned to protest outside Varsha, the official residence of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at Malabar Hill. However, the police prevented her from doing so on the grounds that the area was a sensitive VVIP zone. They asked her to hold her protest at Azad Maidan. Damania initially refused to do so, but finally relented.
On Wednesday, she met social activist Anna Hazare, who is said to have given her his blessings for the protest. Hazare is studying documents related to Khadse’s alleged scams and will meet Fadnavis on the issue.
Damania has accused Khadse of irregularities in the Tapi irrigation project and of misusing government machinery to artificially inflate the price of an 88-acre plot he owns in Jalgaon. She had earlier put former deputy chief ministers Ajit Pawar and Chhagan Bhujbal in the dock over the irrigation scam and the Maharashtra Sadan scam, respectively.