The Bharatiya Janata Party is mulling action against Maharashtra revenue minister Eknath Kadse, accused of wrongdoing on various counts, but after at a series of high-power meetings through the day, it appears no immediate step is likely. The issue was discussed by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis with the BJP national president Amit Shah and later with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday. Late in the evening, Khadse’s daughter-in-law and Raver (Jalgaon) MP Raksha Khadse too met Modi.
“I have submitted a factual report on the matters that have come up recently. We have discussed them as well. The party will direct whatever appropriate action has to be taken,” Fadnavis told reporters after meeting Shah at the BJP headquarters and submitting a report on the controversies related to Khadse’s land deals. Highly placed sources in the party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said given the nature of the allegations the leadership was in a dilemma whether to drop Khadse from the cabinet or just strip him of the crucial revenue portfolio. However, the BJP apparently has a policy not to sack a minister on the basis of allegations made by the opposition or in the media.
“The party did not take action against Union minister Sushma Swaraj or Vasundhara Raje or in Maharashtra against Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde. With this precedent, it may not be appropriate to ask Khadse to step down,” said sources in the party. Further, the leadership was wary of the political damage that would be caused by Khadse’s ouster from the cabinet — he belongs to the Leva Patil community which belongs to the Other Backward Castes and has a strong presence in north Maharashtra and some other parts of the state. The party leadership, however, is irked with Khadse for playing the OBC card.
“Khadse is now projecting that the party is being unjust to OBCs — first by not making him chief minister and now with his removal. The posters put up by Khadse at many places with the image of the late Gopinath Munde, the OBC face of the party, clearly indicate this,” the sources said. “This will show the party in bad light among the OBCs. The party has to consider this as elections to several civic bodies and zilla parishads (district councils) are to be held next year,” the sources said.
Sources said any action against Khadse was likely after the legislative council polls to be held on June 10. He has the support of around a dozen MLAs, who can play an important role in the polls. In fact, if the party decides to strip him of key portfolios, it would be done during the reshuffle and expansion of the state cabinet, which is expected in the second half of June, the sources said.
Fadnavis, in his report to Shah, reportedly stated that Khadse’s Pune land deal involves a conflict of the interest because it was purchased by his wife Mandakini Khadse and son-in-law Girish Chaudhary eyeing compensation as high as Rs60 crore. The report also stated the land belongs to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation and industries minister and Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai had openly claimed ownership.
The report also mentioned the pressure tactics by Khadse and his supporters in Jalgaon and Mumbai. Seventeen corporators from the Jalgaon Municipal Corporation had threatened to resign if the party did not stand by him. In Mumbai, too, the followers staged a demonstration demanding no action be taken against Khadse. The minister, who has been in Jalgaon for the past two days, also tried to consolidate support from locals as well as the Leva Patil community.
Meanwhile, the clamour for Khadse’s removal is growing. Ally Shiv Sena on Thursday put pressure on the BJP to sack Khadse. “Fadnavis should break his silence and tell what he is going to do,” said Sena MP Sanjay Raut.
And activist Anjali Damania — the whistleblower in the irrigation scam — began an indefinite fast demanding action against Khadse. Veteran anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has supported Damania and is likely to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to sack Khadse.
Sources said Khadse, too, has sought an appointment with party chief Amit Shah to explain his side of the case. Although Khadse is hopeful about the appointment, party insiders feel he is unlikely to be heard before any action is taken against him. Khadse, who was supposed to meet a central drought-monitoring team in Aurangabad on Wednesday, had postponed the meet till Thursday hoping for a summons to Delhi. But that did not happen.