Shiv Sena leader and state minister Sanjay Rathod. (HT FILE)
Shiv Sena leader and state minister Sanjay Rathod. (HT FILE)

Pune woman’s suicide: Shiv Sena minister Sanjay Rathod could be on his way out

A senior Shiv Sena functionary said that chief minister (CM) Uddhav Thackeray has made up his mind to take action against Rathod and an announcement on his resignation could be made before the budget session of the state legislature that begins on Monday.
By Shailesh Gaikwad and Tanushree Venkatraman
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 11:43 PM IST

Mumbai Shiv Sena minister Sanjay Rathod, who is facing allegations in a suicide case, could be on his way out.

A senior Shiv Sena functionary said that chief minister (CM) Uddhav Thackeray has made up his mind to take action against Rathod and an announcement on his resignation could be made before the budget session of the state legislature that begins on Monday.

“CM is likely to ask Rathod to step down pending an inquiry into the case. Though several Sena ministers are of the opinion that Rathod shouldn’t be dropped till the ongoing police probe is completed, Thackeray wants his scalp as the issue has become a major embarrassment for him as well as MVA (Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi) government,” the leader said, adding, “he is also irked with the show of strength put up by Rathod on Tuesday.”

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has intensified the attack on the government over the issue. State BJP chief Chandrakant Patil on Saturday announced that party legislators will not allow the functioning of the budget session in Mumbai.

“If Rathod is not asked to resign before Monday and if Thackeray does not come clear on this case, we will not let the legislature function,” Patil said while addressing media persons.

Shiv Sena Member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Raut on Saturday had indicated that Rathod could be on his way out.

“He [Thackeray] has not shut his eyes. CM is watching what is happening and he will take the right decision at an appropriate time. The victim’s family will get justice,” said Raut.

Rathod, who handles the forest portfolio in Thackeray’s cabinet, is linked to the February 8 suicide case of a 23-year-old Pune woman. BJP alleged that the woman was in a relationship with Rathod and he should be booked in the case. Several audio clips related to the woman have gone viral in the past few days. BJP has alleged that one of the persons in an audio clip is Rathod. The minister has insisted that he is not guilty and that the truth would come out during the police investigation.

BJP leader Chitra Wagh on Saturday questioned Thackeray over his silence on the issue.

“You would have torn him apart had you not been on the CM’s chair. I heard there is pressure on you to not sack Rathod,” alleged Wagh, adding that MVA parties (Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress) were shielding a minister who should be booked in the case.

While addressing a press conference, Wagh alleged that the case is not being investigated thoroughly. She further said that the Maharashtra government is shielding Rathod.

“Despite substantial proof against him [Rathod], no action has been taken against him. In fact, the police have not even registered a first information report in this case. There are 45 missed calls in Rathod’s name on the victim’s phone,” Wagh said.

On Tuesday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had met Thackeray over the issue. According to party insiders, Pawar advised Thackeray to drop Rathod, as the issue was damaging the reputation of MVA government. However, Thackeray was hesitant to do so as several Sena ministers had opposed action against Rathod. They pointed out that NCP had not sacked party minister Dhananjay Munde when he was accused of rape by the sister of a woman he was in a relationship with. Munde, the social justice minister in Thackeray’s cabinet, ducked the action against him as the woman later retracted her statement.

“The ministers also pointed out that none of BJP ministers, except Eknath Khadse, were sacked, even though serious allegations were made against them during BJP-led government in the state between 2014 and 2019,” said a top Sena leader.

However, the details of the case that are now in public domain have already become embarrassing for the MVA and Thackeray is under tremendous pressure to drop Rathod, he added.

After his name cropped up in the case, Rathod made it further difficult for his party. He went missing and then resurfaced after 15 days on Tuesday at a place of religious significance for his community at Washim in Vidarbha region. His supporters staged a show of strength with hundreds of people from his Banjara community came to extend their support for him, in violation of Covid-19 social distancing norms.

This irked Thackeray, who directed chief secretary Sanjay Kumar to conduct a probe through local administration and fix the responsibility on the guilty.

“CM is unhappy over the violation of Covid-19 norms in the current situation. He will take action,”Raut said.

Meanwhile, activists of BJP’s women’s wing staged demonstrations across the state, demanding action against Rathod. According to Patil, agitations were held at 100 places in the state and they would continue till Rathod is sacked and case is filed against him. The party’s youth wing will stage protests on March 3, followed by demonstrations by the other backward classes (OBC) cell, he added.

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