The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Monday refused to sacrifice its low-profile minister from Jalgaon, Gulabrao Deokar, despite his arrest under corruption and conspiracy charges in the housing scam.
On Monday, the party used the excuse of Deokar getting bail in the case from the Jalgaon special court to justify its argument that action was unnecessary unless the minister was proven guilty in the court.
Sources said deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who had pushed for a ministerial post for Deokar in 2009, in a bid to checkmate Sena legislator Suresh Jain (also the main accused in the case) in his hometown of Jalgaon, batted in favour of the 55-year-old politician.
“We don’t have anyone in Jalgaon after Jain defected again to the Sena. Letting him go would have sent a wrong signal,” said a senior NCP minister who did not wish to be named.
The NCP has been strengthening its base in Jalgaon; it has upped its legislator count from two in 2004 to five in 2009, after Jain defected.
Tongues have been wagging in political circles that Jain’s arrest in the case this year on the basis of a 2006 was good news for the NCP.
However, now the party may lose its own minister in this scam.
The NCP’s decision to protect its tainted minister will mean that the knives will be out from the Opposition as well its ally, the Congress.
BJP’s party president Sudhir Mungantiwar has already sought Deokar’s removal from the ministry.
“We want the governor to take away the minister’s post. Leaders who treated public money as their own should be treated like this…if the NCP tries to save Deokar, we will come on the streets to protest against it,” said Mungantiwar.
The Congress could also mount tacit pressure on its warring ally to let go of Deokar.
However, the NCP has been holding firm for now.
“Until the court rules against him, we will not accept his resignation. The court has given him bail,” said state party president Madhukar Pichad.
Additional Superintendent of Police, Ishu Sindhu, who is investigating the case, said: “Deokar is not a direct beneficiary but charges against him of abetment, corruption are grave. We had opposed the bail plea of the minister today given his position.”
Sindhu said he would file a charge sheet in the case against the 53 accused, including Deokar, in the coming 10 days. “The bail relief is interim. We have a strong case and even if he is not a main accused, he, along with other councillors, can face stringent punishment,” he said.
(With inputs from Susamma Kurian)