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Khadse quits over corruption allegations, BJP saves face

delhi Updated: Jun 05, 2016 09:24 IST

MUMBAI: Maharashtra revenue minister Eknath Khadse resigned on Saturday over charges of corruption in a land deal and alleged underworld links — the first prominent BJP leader to step down in such circumstances since the NDA came to power at the Centre in 2014 on a promise of clean governance.

The resignation came two days after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in Delhi to discuss the issue.

“The decision came directly from the top with the PM taking a view that such serious charges cannot be ignored. It reflected badly on him and the central government. The state party unit had no role in this,” said a state BJP minister on condition of anonymity.

With the BJP leadership wary that Khadse’s continuation would be seen as a lowering of its resolve to root out corruption, the party adopted a two-pronged strategy to tackle the controversy — asking the minister to resign but backing him publicly to ensure it does not end up losing a powerful OBC leader in the state.

The party’s national joint general secretary V Satish informed Khadse, 63, of the decision on Saturday morning. He was, however, allowed to make the announcement and have his say as a face-saving measure.

Sources said Khadse was also promised a comeback if he emerged clean in the probe — Fadnavis announced one by a retired high court judge.

Khadse, considered the de-facto number two in the state government, is accused of buying a three-acre plot in Pune owned by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation from the original owner, who is in a legal dispute with the government body over the land acquisition.

The purchase — in the name of the minister’s wife and son-in-law — was made for Rs3.75 crore while the land is reportedly worth Rs60-90 crore in compensation

under the new land acquisition law now.

Other controversies made his case weak — Khadse’s aide was arrested in May for seeking a bribe in a land allotment case, and there were allegations of calls made from fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim’s residence in Karachi to the minister’s mobile number.

The Congress-led opposition had pounced on the scandals to highlight what it called large-scale corruption in BJP-ruled states. BJP

ally Shiv Sena, too, had demanded Khadse’s ouster from the cabinet.

The BJP has faced charges of corruption and irregularities against senior leaders earlier. But it rejected all demands for the resignation of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje in the Lalit Modi controversy and of MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the Vyapam scam.

In the case of Khadse, party sources said, the allegations were far more personal and it was becoming difficult to defend him.

Announcing his resignation at a press conference, a defiant Khadse claimed to be the victim of a “media trial” and accused the opposition of levelling charges without proof, while vowing to clear his name. He said the documents purportedly proving the corruption charges against him were “forged”.

Several senior party colleagues stood by him in a show of unity while state BJP president Raosaheb Danve said the allegations were aimed at defaming the BJP and Khadse.

First Published: Jun 05, 2016 09:24 IST