The arrest of the National Congress Party’s seniormost state leader and a former deputy chief minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, on Monday gave a new twist to his rags to riches story even as it further dimmed his party’s credibility in state politics.
Bhujbal, a former vegetable vendor, who was handpicked by Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray for a career in politics had a good run over three decades in politics, but this may well be the end for the OBC leader.
While Bhujbal had been under scanner in the multi-crore Telgi scam, he had not been arrested or seriously implicated in it. But the present case being prosecuted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) may prove more difficult to wish away.
In a major embarrassment to the NCP, even as Bhujbal was arrested, his party colleague and another former deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar, was summoned in connection with a notice related to irregularities in the state apex cooperative bank.
This, however, is not Pawar’s biggest worry. The probe against him in the multi-crore irrigation scam continues to hang over him like Damocles sword; the BJP could use it at any given opportunity to settle scores.
The NCP cried foul, alleging it was vendetta politics by the BJP-led government that saw two of its senior most leaders in trouble.
The ED is probing the role of Bhujbal, a former PWD minister, in a money laundering case registered by it earlier this year. His nephew and former MP Sameer Bhujbal has been arrested in the case with the ED authorities pointing to an empire that runs in thousands of crore.
Ajit Pawar was called by Santosh Patil, divisional joint registrar of the cooperatives department, Pune, by issuing a show cause notice for barring him from contesting polls to co-operative bank boards for 10 years. His hearing, however, got postponed.
Pawar was called for hearing following the amendment in the Maharashtra Co-operatives Act, 1966, to dissolve the boards of several loss-making co-operative banks in case of financial irregularities. The provision also bars the directors from contesting elections of cooperative banks for the next 10 years.
Pawar was chairman of the MSC Bank which was dissolved by the previous government for financial irregularities. The former Deputy CM is the director of the Pune district cooperative bank.
The NCP’s vendetta politics charge rings hollow given that Pawar and Bhujbal are not the lone faces facing investigation in various scams. The NCP’s state president Sunil Tatkare is facing a probe by the anti-corruption Bureau in the irrigation scam. One of its MLAs, Ramesh Kadam, has already been arrested for misappropriating Rs 132 crore from the funds of the Lokshahir Annabhau Sathe Magasvargiya Vikas Mahamandal, a government corporation. Kadam was the chairperson of the corporation that was meant to provide financing to members of Other Backward Classes (OBC).
NCP leaders in private admit that the party is worried about the situation. “Since the formation of the new government in the state many of the party leaders are facing investigation by various government agencies, which certainly has become a cause of concern for the party,” a senior leader said requesting anonymity.