Countering the allegations of graft and wrongdoing levelled against his ministers, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis defended his cabinet colleagues, including senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse who was forced to step down earlier this month.
Speaking at the opening session of the party’s state executive meeting in Pune on Saturday, Fadnavis said the allegations — against several ministers, including women and child development minister Pankaja Munde, education minister Vinod Tawde, water resources minister Girish Mahajan, and even party’s state president Raosaheb Danve — were a “false propaganda” by the opposition. “Just as we are taking the development agenda forward, there is an attempt to target our ministers. How can Congress-NCP accuse us of land deals when they have been slammed by the CAG report for grabbing land?” said the CM. “This is a conspiracy... It is like Goebbels [Nazi propaganda minister] propaganda in absence of any evidence.”
Fadnavis gave a clean chit to all his ministers, who have been facing various allegations, and insisted that even Khadse will come out unscathed after the “agnipariksha” (trial by fire).
The chief minister showcased a united front as he recounted the government’s achievements and policy decisions, giving credit to the ministers concerned.
Fadnavis’ defense of his cabinet colleagues comes ahead of the 26 zilla parishad and 10 municipal corporation, including BMC, elections that will take place in Maharashtra between October 2016 and March 2017.
The outcome of these polls, touted as mini-Assembly elections in the state, will be seen as a referendum on the Fadnavis government and could have an impact on its remaining two years in power.
On Saturday, the message to the party leaders and workers was clear. As the BJP readies itself for the poll challenge, the focus has to be on opponents instead of battling allegations within the party and being defensive.
Indicating an aggressive stance against the Opposition, Fadnavis asked party workers to “step out in greater forces against Congress-NCP”. “We can’t let them hide behind their burkhas. Unmask their corruption rackets, collect documents and file cases against them,” said the chief minister.
However, Fadnavis and the BJP’s state president Raosaheb Danve made no mention of the trickier issue of the unease within the saffron alliance. But Union minister Venkaiah Naidu, who inaugurated the session, hinted at a ceasefire with the warring ally. “Shiv Sena is BJP’s oldest ally. There are differences even within the family; it’s best to sort them out together. These differences shouldn’t be discussed outside. We have work to do together in the future,” said Naidu.
While this indicates a climb down, it remains to be seen whether the allies can forge an amiable working relationship. More clarity could emerge after Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray addresses his party workers on Sunday, when the party turns 50, and when the BJP passes its political resolution on Sunday.
Sources said the party will attempt to work out an alliance with the Sena wherever possible to avoid the latter coming together with Congress and NCP. “The focus is to pick as many ZPs and civic bodies as possible, to make our position stronger ahead of 2019,” said a BJP minister, on condition of anonymity.
At the grass-roots level, however, BJP has already started work on contesting the BMC polls solo, assessing situation to contest all 227 seats.
Union ministers Prakash Javdekar and Piyush Goyal along with a majority of the state cabinet ministers – education minister Vinod Tawde, finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, co-operation minister Chandrakant Patil, Bapat – and even Khadse were present at the executive meeting on Saturday.