The controversy over the arrest of Gajanan Patil, the alleged aide of state revenue minister Eknath Khadse, for demanding Rs30 crore bribe has become an embarrassment for the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). While Khadse has challenged the Opposition to prove the allegations and even offered to resign if his involvement is proved, the party is worried the allegations may dent its ‘clean’ image.
Patil was arrested by the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) while seeking Rs30 crore from Dr RK Jadhav, who had sought government land for setting up an educational campus in Thane district.
The case took another turn on Thursday, after officials of the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) seized the documents related to the land deal from the revenue department, which is headed by Khadse, in Mantralaya.
Senior BJP leaders admitted it is a matter of concern. “Khadse is the seniormost leader of the party and considered the second-in-command in the ministerial council after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. If his name gets dragged in such a controversy, we have a reason to worry,” said a senior party functionary requesting anonymity.
In the run-up to the state Assembly polls, the BJP had levelled allegations of corruption against the Congress-NCP. Campaigning during the state assembly polls, Prime Minister Modi had come down heavily on the corruption by the Congress-NCP government in the state. “If we are facing similar allegations after coming to power, it is not a good sign,” said a senior party leader.
Two other BJP ministers—rural development minister Pankaja Munde and education minister Vinod Tawde—were also in the dock over allegations of irregularities.
Meantime, AAP leader Preeti Memon met the chief minister, demanding Khadse’s resignation and probe into the matter. Khadse has maintained he has nothing to do with the controversy. The revenue minister is also prepared to send defamation notices.
“I have openly challenged Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant to prove his claim by Thursday night about the cost of the land. I will resign from the post [if anything is proven]. I am still waiting for his response,” Khadse said.
Sawant on Wednesday had claimed the land in the middle of controversy is worth Rs152 crore, according to the ready reckoner rates. But Khadse said the cost of land was just Rs9 crore. “The price of the plot rose to Rs9 crore from Rs5 crore because the plot has now being considered as part of the urban area of Thane district,” Khadse said.
Earlier, while refuting the allegations, Khadse had clarified the cost of the land parcel was Rs5.53 crore and allegations of Rs30 crore bribe were baseless.
The topic also figured in the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister on Wednesday. “Fadnavis has briefed the PM about the political situation in the state,” said a senior BJP leader.
Khadse said the party leadership has full faith in him and it is impossible that such a discussion could be held with the PM. “I have given 40 years of my life to the party. I have come this far because of the faith of the party leadership,” Khadse said.
Sources close to the minister pointed out the party had defended both Munde and Tawde when they faced allegations.