A day after high-level meetings in New Delhi and speculation about stern action against state revenue minister Eknath Khadse over the various controversies he is embroiled in, the BJP leadership has reportedly deferred its decision on the matter for at least a few days.
The minister, who has been at an undisclosed location, gave a video statement to IBN-Lokmat on Friday evening, rubbishing the allegations and terming it as a conspiracy against him. In the video, Khadse insisted he was busy preparing for a few major decisions to be taken in the cabinet meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.
On Thursday, in a meeting that lasted around 25 minutes in New Delhi, PM Narendra Modi reportedly told CM Devendra Fadnavis to wait for a few days before initiating any action against Khadse. The party is treading cautiously on the issue as it wants to avoid any adverse implications of any action against Khadse. It has not taken any action against ministers such as Sushma Sawaraj or CMs of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, or Maharashtra ministers Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde, all of whom have faced allegations of wrongdoing. Further, Khadse enjoys support in north Maharashtra and is also a prominent OBC leader in the state.
Sources said Fadnavis is in favour of action against Khadse, but wants the central leadership to do so. “Otherwise, it is likely to be misconceived as action against an OBC leader by Fadnavis, who is a Brahmin. On the other hand, the party leadership wants the decision to be taken at the state level,” a BJP leader said, on condition of anonymity. “But, Modi wants the decision to be deferred for a few days and be taken only during or after the national executive of the party, which is scheduled to take place on June 12 and 13.”
In the meanwhile, the party also plans to expand the state cabinet and the minister may be stripped of important portfolios such as revenue and excise, if he isn’t dropped from the cabinet. Incidentally, Modi is leaving on a five-day foreign tour on Saturday.
Before the meeting with Modi, Fadnavis submitted a ‘factual report’ on the land deal controversy to the party’s national president Amit Shah at the BJP office in Delhi. The report is based on the documents submitted to Fadnavis by Khadse earlier this week.
In an indication that the action against Khadse may not be extreme, state BJP chief Raosaheb Danve on Friday said: “It would not be proper to claim that the report submitted by Fadnavis to Shah on Thursday goes against Khadse. It could even turn out to be in his favour. The allegations leveled against the minister are baseless and the party stands by him,” Danve said in Jalna, adding that the party was firmly backing Khadse. In Mumbai, housing minister and senior BJP leader Prakash Mehta, too, said the party stood by Khadse.
In the backdrop of speculation over his resignation, Khadse released a video statement on Friday evening. “Speculations are rife on my absence from the media glare for two days, but let me clarify that I am busy with officers from agriculture department to take major decisions in the cabinet meeting. The decisions are related to the distribution of seeds and fertilizers for the kharip season, releasing the land in the possession of the government for technical reasons to the farmers and cloud seeding, among others. As the agriculture minister, my top priority is the welfare of farmers and I have been in constant touch with the chief minister, discussing the decisions,” he said.
He reiterated that the allegations leveled against him were baseless and with the intention of maligning his image. Political observers claimed the minister tried to emphasise that he was still part of the government and unfazed by the speculation over his resignation. Meanwhile, he reportedly tried to meet RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to garner support, but did not get any response, said sources.
Khadse has been facing allegations of purchasing a government plot at Bhosari in Pune by misusing his official position for the sake of earning money through government compensation. Khadse is also facing flak for allegedly receiving calls from underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. Earlier last month, Gajanan Patil an alleged aide of the revenue minister, was caught by the anti-corruption bureau asking for a bribe from a person for a land allotment decision by the revenue department.