All-out defence for Vinod Tawde, but Pankaja Munde left to fend for herself?

While two other senior ministers had showed up on Tuesday to defend Education Minister Vinod Tawde, Pankaja Munde was alone when she mounted her defence in the Rs 206-crore procurement scam yesterday; Housing Minister Prakash Mehta joined her halfway through the conference

Left to defend herself in the alleged Rs 206-crore procurement scam, state Women and Child Welfare Minister Pankaja Munde put on a show of strength yesterday by having hundreds of her supporters in tow as she addressed her first press conference since the allegations began being hurled at her.

With hundreds of her supporters in tow, Munde challenged the might of her detractors both within and outside the party. She asked CM Devendra Fadnavis to initiate a probe into the allegations, saying she would quit if she was found guilty. Pic/PTI
With hundreds of her supporters in tow, Munde challenged the might of her detractors both within and outside the party. She asked CM Devendra Fadnavis to initiate a probe into the allegations, saying she would quit if she was found guilty. Pic/PTI

Munde challenged the might of her detractors both within and outside the party and asked CM Devendra Fadnavis to initiate a probe into the allegations, saying she would quit if she was found guilty.

And, while Housing Minister Prakash Mehta showed up halfway through the conference, questions were raised on why the party had not mounted an all-out defence for Munde, especially since Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and Cooperatives Minister Chandrakant Patil had, just a day before Munde’s conference, joined Education Minister Vinod Tawde in refuting allegations of irregularities on the latter’s part in issuing a contract worth Rs 191 crore.

Show of strength
Munde, who had been vacationing in London, had landed at the city’s international airport on Tuesday in the presence of a large number of her supporters, who had come from the Beed district, which is also home to her constituency, Parli.

In an impromptu rally, she had addressed the supporters and made an emotional appeal to them to stand by her in her difficult time. A large number of supporters were similarly present at her press conference at the Sahyadri guesthouse yesterday.

Addressing reporters, Munde reiterated the explanation she had issued from London, with the addition that the previous government, too, had purchased items in a similar manner. “The Congress-NCP government had spent more than Rs 400 crore in the past five years to buy things similar to the ones my department had procured from the contractors under the same rate contract system,” she said.

In a bid to escape allegations that the contracts were given to suppliers that did not have manufacturing facilities, she said the condition was not required. “And, the responsibility to verify such manufacturing units lies with the Industries department,” she said.

The department is headed by a Shiv Sena minister. She did, however, promise action against contractors who supplied sub-standard materials, such as chikki (a sweet snack). “We have collected samples from various places and will test them for quality,” she said.

‘Not alone’
Asked why her senior ministerial colleagues did not come to defend her, she said that they were busy in official work and she, herself, had asked them not to come.

Only Housing Minister Prakash Mehta walked in when she was halfway through her conference. “I spoke with Sudhir Mungantiwar and Chandrakant Patil and asked them to stay back for their official work. They sent Mehta sahib,” she said.

“And I’m not alone... I have lakhs of my supporters with me. And the CM and others have already said I have done no wrong,” she said, when asked whether the party had left her to fend for herself.

Opposition leader cancels US trip
Following criticism of the decision, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil has dropped his plan to join CM Devendra Fadnavis on the US tour. The CM had invited Patil to the tour, in which he is wooing investors, and they were supposed to attend a convention of Maharastrians settled in the US and Canada.

Patil’s was a state-paid tour and he was to fly out to join the CM yesterday, two days after Fadnavis’ departure. Patil had come under criticism for agreeing to travel with the CM at a time when he is supposed to lead the attack on the BJP in view of a series of alleged scams by ministers.

Even ex-CM and state Congress president Ashok Chavan expressed surprise yesterday when he said that he had not invited opposition leaders to his official foreign tours. Patil, on his part, said he was not going to the US because there were important issues which needed his attention.

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