BJP and NCP caught in the storm after Chhagan Bhujbal's arrest

The pressure is on the ruling party now to pursue corruption cases against NCP heavyweights Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare for the irrigation scam as well

The arrest of former deputy CM and PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal has put both the NCP and the BJP in a fix on several counts

Sources said a case had already been prepared against NCP’s Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, named in the irrigation scam
Sources said a case had already been prepared against NCP’s Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, named in the irrigation scam

Who’s next?
The NCP camp not only has to struggle with the taint from the arrest of its popular leader, but also has to work to erase the impression that it let this happen in order to protect the big fish — Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, who are named in the irrigation scam. On the other end, the arrest has given a big boost the BJP, which had promised to clear out corruption. The BJP has already pushed the Congress to the wall by allowing the prosecution of former CM and state Congress president Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh scam. But these triumphs will mean even greater pressure on the BJP to now go after other tainted heavyweights like Pawar and Tatkare.

Sources in the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau say that they have already prepared a case against the irrigation scam, which could put the two senior NCP leaders behind bars as well.

But people in the know — especially regarding alleged corruption in Vidarbha projects — do not see any possibility of the BJP leading in this direction because some of its own top shots might end up being nailed if the inquiry is taken to its logical end.

Caste politics
Bhujbal’s arrest had also given a dramatic twist to caste and community-based politics, especially among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which Bhujbal has been leading with aplomb. It was his dominance of the community through the NGO Samata Parishad that helped him evade strict action in the Telgi stamp paper scam, although he resigned as the deputy CM. At times, his high stature as the OBC leader had even his NCP boss Sharad Pawar on tenterhooks. Little wonder then, that political experts and people close to Bhujbal see his arrest on Monday night as a larger conspiracy to cut the OBC leader to size.

Political commentator Shrikant Barhate explained that Bhujbal’s arrest will sharpen the political clout of a certain section (read Maratha leaders). “The NCP is known as a party of franchise. It has regional satraps, mostly Marathas, doing all politics. The non-Maratha Bhujbal was an exception, and his arrest will again increase the dominance of Marathas in the party,” said Barhate.

However, the BJP is facing flak for the arrest from its own OBC base. It’s important to remember that caste issues trump party politics, and the OBC community is more likely to see this as affront to them than to the NCP.

While NCP chief Sharad Pawar did not comment on the money laundering charges, he implied that the charges in the Maharashtra Sadan case were unfair. Asked whether it was political vendetta, he said, “I don’t want to comment on whether it is. One should understand because the ruling party MP is making statement on television — he and the chief minister — we are waiting on that,” Pawar said.

NCP’s Dhananjay Munde, who is Opposition leader in the legislative council and incidentally claims to be the chieftain of a large section of OBCs in the state, alleged that the BJP was attempting to divert attention of the people from the real issue of drought.

“The BJP failed to do justice to farmers and hence they have arrested Bhujbal. The CM had mentioned in the house that Bhujbal was going to be arrested and the leader was arrested by late night. This government is putting pressure of investigating agencies,” he said, adding that the BJP MP Kirit Somaiya too was aware of the arrest and had been talking about it before it happened. However, CM Devendra Fadnavis told the legislative assembly that Bhujbal’s arrest wasn’t a case of political revenge. “We will not extend any help in hiding scams. If there has been corruption in the state, why should ED remain quiet? Scamsters will be punished,” he said.

Assemby session stalled
Crying foul over the arrest, NCP and Congress legislators stalled both the legislative houses on Tuesday as they staged a protest in the house and outside it.

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