Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse resigned on Saturday from all his ministerial portfolios ending a week long speculation whether he would quit or not after he got simultaneously embroiled in multiple controversies.
Khadse, who is the senior most minister in the Maharshtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' cabinet and commands enormous clout, of late has been mired in controversies with a questionable land deal in Pune and an alleged demand for bribe by his close aide Gajanan Patil for a land allotment case in Kalyan. Apart from these doubtful real estate transactions, his mobile phone number allegedly appeared in the call records of most wanted gangster Dawood Ibrahim.
Speculations over Khadse's fate reached a crescendo on Thursday after Fadnavis submitted a detailed report to BJP chief Amit Shah and also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi late in the evening.
Despite mounting pressure from the central leadership and BJP ideologue RSS, it was widely believed that Khadse would be a tough nut to crack as the initial signals indicated.
For a state like Maharashtra, where caste politics rules the roost in power games, it was expected that it won't be an easy road ahead for Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to exercise his authority on the matter. Fadnavis is from the Brahmin community, while Khadse belongs to the Levedar Patil community, which is part of the OBC list. After Gopinath Munde's death, there is no senior OBC leader like Khadse in the party. Munde belongs to Wanjara community. Earlier Maratha strongman and Education Minister Vinod Tawde and Pankaja Munde Palwe were in race for the post of the chief minister but corruption allegations against the duo have somewhat stemmed their pace.
After Gopinath Munde's untimely death in a road accident in the National Capital around two years back, Khadse emerged as the OBC face both in the BJP and the Maharashtra government. Apart from Khadse, state BJP president Raosaheb Danve, Pankaja, Tawde and MLC Pandurang Phundkar are all Munde loyalist. In the Brahmin camp, Fadnavis, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Girish Bapat and Water Resources Minister Girish Dattatray Mahajan are among the prominent faces.
"Khadse has done nothing wrong or committed any irregularity. These are all baseless allegations against him. The party is with him but if the government or the party central leadership wants an enquiry then we have no issue. But at this stage Khadse will not lose anything. These are all speculations that the report is against Khadse. It might be positive on Khadse as well," BJP state president Raosaheb Danve told reporters in Jalna on Friday.
Khadse, who is also the OBC face of the party, was in the midst of massive turmoil as Shah had already indicated being firm in maintaining the "zero-tolerance for corruption" policy in the party.
Recently his close aide Gajanand Patil was arrested for allegedly demanding a bribe over a Kalyan land deal. Pune-based builder Hemant Gawande also filed a FIR accusing Khadse of allegedly grabbing plots owned by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, or MIDC. Apart from these alleged dubious land deals, what has proved to be the biggest blot on Khadse's profile, is his alleged involvement in the calls made to gangster Dawood Ibrahim in Pakistan.
In April this year, the alleged sale of government-owned land to Khadse's wife and son-in-law for about Rs 3 crore, at a time when the market value of the plot is estimated to be Rs 40 crore has raised eyebrows. However, Khadse has maintained that the land is not owned by the government and that bought it from a private party. The minister also said he paid the stamp duty on the market value of the plot.
Earlier Khadse denied any links with Dawood, stating that though the cellphone number that crops up in Dawood Ibrahim's records does belong to him, it was not in use for the last year, and that phone records can be manipulated through software.
With the RSS wanting Khadse out from the Maharashtra cabinet, it was in all likelihood a matter of time or a mere formality for the Muktainagar MLA to lose his ministerial berth, sources confirmed. However, there is also a section within the BJP who wants Khadse's wings to be clipped and not entirely drop him from the cabinet. There are suggestions flying in and out that the heavyweight revenue ministry should be taken away from him instead.
RSS think tank and Delhi University professor Rakesh Sinha even tweeted out seeking Khadse's resignation.
एकनाथ खड़से को इस्तीफा दे देना चाहिए। राजनीती में पारदर्शिता और ईमानदारी पर दोहरा मापदंड नहीं हो सकता है।
— Dr Rakesh Sinha (@RakeshSinha01) June 1, 2016
A delegation of NCP and Congress leaders met Maharashtra Governor Vidyasagar Rao on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively and demanded Khadse's resignation.