Facing the first major political crisis in his 17-month-old government, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has a tough choice to make as far as revenue minister Eknath Khadse is concerned.
He is believably not being able to make up his mind to decide whether to ask Khadse to resign or just clip his wings by stripping him of important portfolios such as revenue and excise. If he decides to adopt the second option, he will have an opportunity to go ahead during the cabinet expansion likely in the next two weeks.
If he decides to go for a relatively tougher option of sacking the senior-most colleague he will have to gather the strong support from the party higher ups, as it may be followed by bitter consequences owing to Khadse’s seniority and the mass base he enjoys especially in north Maharashtra.
The issue was discussed by Fadnavis with Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president Amit Shah and later with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday. However, any immediate action against the minister is unlikely.
Khadse is facing a series of allegations, including buying a plot in possession of the government and arrest of his alleged aide in a graft case among others.
After the meeting between Fadnavis and Shah and later with Modi on Thursday evening, the party has decided to “wait and watch” at least for a few more days before initiating any steps.
“I have submitted a factual report on the matters, which have come up recently. We have discussed them as well. The party will direct whatever appropriate action has to be taken,” he told reporters after meeting Shah at the BJP headquarters. Following the directives from the party leadership, Fadnavis submitted a report on the controversies related to the land deals by Khadse to Shah as sought by the latter.
Highly placed sources in the party said the party leadership was in a dilemma whether to drop Khadse from the cabinet or strip him off the crucial department like revenue, while retaining him in the cabinet. With the serious nature of allegations, the party leadership is inclined to remove him from the cabinet. However, the BJP, under Modi, has been reluctant to sack any minister because of allegations made by the opposition or in the media.
Meanwhile, Khadse supporters have toned down their protests, as they realised that the party leadership was not impressed with the threats of sending resignations in support of the minister.
Sources said Khadse may also visit Nagpur to meet Union minister Nitin Gadkari and RSS leaders.