Now that there is ED (Eknath-Devendra) Sarkar in Maharashtra, will ED turn off the heat ?
Rebel MLAs of the Shiv Sena have made no bones about the fact that they were under pressure by central agencies. Have they earned a reprieve is the question
The husband of a rebel Shiv Sena MLA is said to own a thousand housing units in the state! Not among the wealthiest MLAs in the state, he nevertheless has access to funds which allows him to distribute something or the other in his wife’s constituency every month.
If it is a sewing machine one month, it is a pressure cooker the next month and plastic bins for dry and wet garbage the third month. The constituents welcome the freebies as most of them are extremely needy and can do with kitchen appliances, utensils or gadgets.
Not surprisingly, this gentleman was also among the Sena MLAs who received notices from Income Tax and the Enforcement Directorate to cooperate in investigating corruption allegations against them. The poor husband of the MLA confided to newsmen that he had no choice but to have his wife side with the rebels because he just did not know how to deal with the central agencies.
Now with the rebels forming the government, with BJP extending outside support, he hopes he will be able to breathe easy. But will the central agencies now lay off the ministers and MLAs belonging to the Shiv Sena? What if they don’t?
The new cabinet of Eknath Shinde is said to include names like Pratap Sarnaik and Sanjay Bansod. Both of them along with Shinde were being harassed by central agencies, forcing them to cast their lot with the BJP. Shinde, who led the rebellion, is said to be a partner of a leading builder. Their construction company in Thane and Navi Mumbai is said to be as big as the other major players like Hiranandani. Not surprisingly the company was also under the scanner of the central agencies.He would be hoping that Kanhaiya Kumar, who had called BJP a laundromat, is proved right.
Not that the MLAs belonging to the BJP do not have business interests or are squeaky clean. Mangalprabhat Lodha, a five-time MLA, is also a builder with declared assets worth Rs. 441 Crore. He is the second richest MLA in the Maharashtra Assembly, where 99 percent of the MLAs happen to be crorepatis. The richest MLA Parag Shah also belongs to the BJP and declared assets worth Rs. 500 crore in his affidavit.
Shah had replaced Prakash Mehta as the BJP candidate after Mehta, also a developer, got embroiled in two major scandals as minister in the previous Devendra Fadnavis government between 2014 and 2019. As minister he tried to reassign land designated for a transit camp to slum redevelopment to favour a particular builder.
He was also accused of ensuring windfall gains of more than Rs. 1,000 crore to a builder. But BJP allowed him to complete his full term as minister and Fadnavis passionately defended him. He was however denied ticket in 2019 as the BJP felt it would be seen as an endorsement of corruption and become a campaign issue. No central agency is known to have gone after him.
Indeed, as many as 17 ministers in the Fadnavis government faced corruption charges and one even a charge of murder. No action was taken against them and only the rare one was denied a ticket.
Pankaja Munde, daughter of Gopinath Munde, was openly called ‘Chikki Chor’ after she cleared a contract worth Rs. 206 crore to a supplier without inviting tenders. No inquiry was held despite demands by the opposition. She was also given a ticket in 2019 but lost to her cousin Dhananjay Munde of the Nationalist Congress Party, who was among those who exposed the scandal.
Gopinath Munde himself had famously blurted out that he had spent upwards of Rs. 8 crore in his election though the permissible limit was much less than one crore. But at election time neither the Election Commission nor the central agencies seem to get a whiff of the unlawful spending. The same agencies though were hyper active in the last three years, strengthening allegations that they were acting at the behest of the BJP.
While Shiv Sena rebels may have earned some temporary reprieve, they are unlikely to be let off the hook. That is why the future appears to be tense and uncertain with desperate rebels and an impatient BJP.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)