Fadnavis, who was earlier always on the ball demanding the resignations of those in the previous government who were facing allegations, is now on the back foot, having no choice but to defend every minister in his cabinet.
When the BJP came to power in Maharashtra in October 2014, they held out the promise of fresh hope and clean governance. Less than two years later, the party and the government lie battered with allegations of administrative improprieties and corruption – and not just against the ministers who were sworn into government nearly two years ago.
At least four of the nine new ministers inducted into the state cabinet last week have criminal cases filed against them, and one was arrested by the police and released on bail just days before he was picked as a minister by Uddhav Thackeray, president of the Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP in government.
Right from day one, Fadnavis has had a troubled existence. A greenhorn, who never had the experience of governance unlike many ministers in his cabinet, he was resented by these veterans in the BJP for his elevation, done purely at the instance of the bosses in Delhi. When Fadnavis became the state BJP president, it was a job none of these veterans wanted because at the time it did not look like the BJP would get even close to seizing power from the deeply entrenched Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra. Fadnavis, however, took the thankless job and took on the two ruling parties in right earnest, pointing out their various transgressions, and constantly demanding the resignations and arrests of ministers against whom there were allegations, including former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.
But, as an astute observer points out, it took a decade or more for cases of corruption against the Congress and the NCP to come to the fore. The BJP has got caught in recurring scams in less than two year of its existence in government. Starting with women and child welfare minister Pankaja Munde who was accused of violating all government norms in clearing tenders worth more than Rs 200 crore in just a day for the supply of chikkis to children in anganwadis for their mid-day meal. The chikkis turned out to be substandard and were supplied by the very same contractors who had been indicted during the previous regime for a similar transgression, proving that for many, it was business as usual in the corridors of Mantralaya. Then there were accusations against education minister Vinod Tawde, a hopeful for the top job, of lying on an affidavit about his educational qualifications. He was also accused of a conflict of interest case appointment on a government committee of a director of a company where he (Tawde) was on the board.
Allegations of impropriety have already claimed one scalp, that of a senior minister Eknath Khadse who had to finally quit when it was revealed that he had misused his position as revenue minister to execute land deeds in favour of his family for a three-acre plot near Pune. Khadse, a six-time MLA and chief minister aspirant at one time, is now facing a judicial inquiry.
“If you look closely at least ten ministers before the expansion had scam allegations against them,’’ says Nawab Malik, the chief spokesperson of the NCP. “Now there are four more.’’
Among the new ministers inducted by Fadnavis, Ravindra Chavan had allegedly referred to Dalits as ‘pigs’, which promoted several women’s groups to register cases against him.
Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar, the estranged grandson of former Congress chief minister Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar is considered close to Fadnavis and has been inducted into the cabinet as a Maratha who would ward off the challenge to Fadnavis from current state BJP president Raosaheb Danve. Sambhaji, however, is said to be closely linked with a company that has cases registered against it for duping three banks of Rs 40 crore. He has been named in the FIR filed by the CBI.
Another minister, Jaykumar Rawal, has cases filed against him for misappropriation and grabbing of government land, according to Malik.
Fadnavis, who was earlier always on the ball demanding the resignations of those in the previous government who were facing allegations, is now on the back foot, having no choice but to defend every minister in his cabinet. “During our regime, Fadnavis was in the forefront of demanding amendments to the Lokayukta act to arm that authority with powers equal to the police to arrest the corrupt. So why has he not brought in that amendment despite 18 months as head of the government? He knows the moment he does that half his cabinet would be behind bars,” Malik says.
Adding to the government’s woes, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court has just ruled against an award of tenders worth more than Rs 6000 crore for the provision of take home rations for children and lactating mothers awarded by Munde’s child and women welfare department to dubious contractors.
Some of the strains in the cabinet are showing. Munde, whose father Gopinath Munde was an influential OBC leader, was recently involved in a public spat with the chief minister when he took away the water resources department from her and allocated it to another minister, Ram Shinde who has, equally publicly, refused to take charge until she willingly hands it over to him on her return from Singapore. Munde, who sees herself as her father’s political heir, has been simmering for some time at what she sees as slights against her.