Who should be Maharashtra’s next home minister? NCP still unsure
Two days ahead of the state cabinet expansion, there continues to be a question mark over who will become Maharashtra’s next home minister. While this crucial portfolio was with the Shiv Sena in the recently concluded winter session of the state Legislature, it has now been promised to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
There is a dilemma in the NCP over the allocation of this portfolio. While party chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, who is slated to be anointed as the deputy chief minister (CM), is keen on the portfolio, he continues to be under the scanner in the multi-crore irrigation scam, and has been named in FIRs by the economic offences wing (EOW) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Maharashtra State Co-operative (MSC) Bank scam. It will be a question of propriety if he heads the home department while the state police are probing allegations against him.
Ajit may also not get his hand on the plum portfolios of irrigation and co-operation, which are both with the NCP. There is a section within the NCP that feels that Ajit may have to settle for rural development or the finance portfolio. “No one knows what Pawarsaheb [Sharad Pawar] will decide as there is pressure from Ajit for the home department. But, for now, it will send a wrong signal to the people. Maybe later he can be given this department as he has been almost given a clean chit in the irrigation scam and the MSC Bank case is loosely framed,’’ said a senior NCP leader. The anti-corruption bureau (ACB) in its recent affidavits to the high court has given a clean chit to Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam, but the same is yet to be ratified by the court. The inquiry in the scam is also likely to continue for a long time as ACB is probing 2,600-odd tenders. The MSC Bank case is still at a nascent stage. “Until his name is completely cleared, Pawarsaheb may prefer to give the portfolio to former speaker Dilip Walse-Patil or the party’s state unit chief and minister Jayant Patil,” said the NCP leader.
The NCP was ousted in the 2014 Assembly polls on the back of corruption allegations against Ajit, Chhagan Bhujbal and Sunil Tatkare. Bhujbal, who is out on bail, has already been sworn in as a minister. A political observer said Pawar may lose the hard-earned credibility he won in this election if Ajit is made the deputy CM and given home portfolio. “The NCP chief will prefer to keep the home portfolio with Walse-Patil. Earlier, when Ajit Pawar became the deputy CM in 2010, he was not allotted the home department, while both his predecessors — RR Patil and Bhujbal — got it. It’s Pawarsaheb’s way of keeping a tab.”
However, professor Nitin Birmal, a political analyst from Pune, said, “It will be difficult for the NCP chief to refuse the home portfolio to Ajit as he has a strong backing in NCP. The clean chit in irrigation scam was to ensure he gets the deputy CM’s post and the home portfolio.’’