Maharashtra housing scam: Mehta may lose portfolio, but keep cabinet seat

Maharashtra CM Fadnavis will have to face down an aggressive Opposition and get the optics right while deciding the fate of housing minister Prakash Mehta

mumbai Updated: Aug 07, 2017 09:35 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Devendra Fadnavis,Maharashtra housing scam,Eknath Khadse
Speculation within the BJP is that the chief minister may find it difficult to shield Mehta.(HT File Photo)

With just four more days for the Maharashtra legislature’s monsoon session to end, the question is whether the Opposition can secure the second resignation from the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet by ensuring the ouster of housing minister Prakash Mehta.

After senior minister Eknath Khadse’s resignation over graft charges last year, this is the second time the Fadnavis-led government is hit by such serious allegations of corruption. Unlike in Khadse’s case or that of other ministers who faced graft allegations so far, in the case of Mehta, the political credibility of Fadnavis is also under a cloud.

As such, the speculation within the BJP is that the chief minister may find it difficult to shield Mehta unlike women and child development minister Panjaka Munde and education minister Vinod Tawde, whom he has defended earlier.

On the other hand, what makes Mehta’s position stronger is his political significance as a Gujarati, a community that has backed the BJP consistently in Mumbai. Besides, Mehta is known to enjoy good relations with the BJP top brass in Delhi. Therein lies Fadnavis’ dilemma.

“The chairperson of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority is the chief minister. Hence, both the allegations against Mehta -- over the Tardeo SRA project and the Ghatkopar transit camp and slum redevelopment project -- also have a bearing on the chief minister. In the Tardeo case, the housing minister has himself involved the Chief Minister by noting on a file that the CM has been appraised of the decision. And, that decision is in question. If the case goes to court tomorrow, even the CM is answerable here,’’ said a senior BJP leader who spoke on condition he would not be identified.

With the CM’s own credibility and that of his government at stake, sources in the party said that Fadnavis may be in favour of Mehta relinquishing the housing portfolio even while keeping him as a minister without any charge until the probe is completed.

There is also an internal rivalry angle in the BJP that is at play in this case with some senior leaders eyeing Mehta’s portfolio and leaders like Khadse questioning the party’s stance in the case.

However, a lot would depend on the Opposition strategy in the state legislature in the remaining four days. If the Congress and NCP leaders are co-opted into going easy on Mehta, the CM may shut the door on the controversy and take a quiet decision later during the cabinet reshuffle.

Right now, the Opposition is in no mood to give in. Sources in the Congress said that a section within the party would take this issue to Delhi and ensure it gets a mention in Parliament. This may force Fadnavis’ hand too. The final decision, a senior BJP minister, however, insisted would be taken in Delhi.

First Published: Aug 07, 2017 09:35 IST