Inquiry will prove me innocent: Eknath Khadse
Unable to defend corruption charges against its tainted Maharashtra minister, Eknath Khadse, the BJP asked the senior leader to quit early on Saturday.
Eknath Khadse at a press conference at the BJP head office at Nariman Point on Saturday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Putting on a brave face in adversity, Khadse tried to make it a show of safeguarding morality. He said he tendered his resignation to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, keeping in line with the party's tradition of holding high its moral grounds. But, maintained that he was bound to return to the state cabinet as all inquiries would prove his innocence.
Backed by senior cabinet colleagues, Khadse said he has asked Fadnavis to investigate allegations as well as probe activists and political leaders who have not produced any sound proof to nail him.
Fadnavis accepted the resignation and forwarded it to the governor. He said a retired High Court judge will be appointed to conduct an inquiry into the allegations against Khadse.
'Quit on moral grounds'
Khadse blamed the media. "In my political career spanning 40 years, I have faced a media trial for the first time. No person or media house has given any sound proof of my involvement in the so-called scams," Khadse said at a press conference after telling the CM that he was quitting.
He denied a case of quid pro quo in a land deal that he is alleged to have helped his family strike. "I have been working for the party's expansion right from the era of Emergency. I have always ensured my party's interests," he said.
Khadse invoked party seniors LK Advani and Nitin Gadkari, saying they, too, had stayed away from their respective offices after facing allegations. He also thanked the BJP for supporting him.
State BJP president Raosaheb Danve, who gave a clean chit to Khadse on Friday, said the allegations against his party colleague were baseless and he would come out clean.
Senior BJP ministers Sudhir Mungantiwar, Vinod Tawde and Prakash Mehta accompanied Khadse to the press conference, and also conferred with the CM and Danve at the CM's official residence, Varsha, where Khadse put in his papers.
Narayan Rane, Congress leader
The BJP is targeting leaders of other backward classes. Khadse and Fadnavis are not on good terms, and I think OBC leader Khadse's resignation is a fallout of this
Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP
Why has (State BJP president Raosaheb) Danve been giving Khadse a clean chit? Now, the people should know why Khadse quit if he was not guilty
Anjali Damania, Civil rights activist
Why only Khadse? All the people, including Khadse's family, should be probed for involvement in the alleged scams. I have all supporting documents with me
Khadse headed nine departments, most of them key portfolios, like revenue, agriculture, relief and rehabilitation, and state excise. He was the second in hierarchy to Fadnavis. He was in the reckoning for the CM's post after the BJP's handsome win in 2014, but the party chose the young Fadnavis to head the state.
BJP played it safe
It was expected that the BJP would wait further before initiating action against Khadse, but the party high command thought otherwise and prompted his resignation on Saturday itself, a day after the fate of its five candidates in the legislative council election was safely sealed. Sources said the party did not want to take any chance in the election because Khadse's supporters might have ruined winning prospects through cross-voting in case their leader was sacked earlier. In a safe move, the BJP had shelved a plan of fielding extra candidates.
In line of fire
Landing a body blow: A serious allegation is that Khadse facilitated the purchase by his wife and son-in-law of a three-acre government land in Bhosri in Pune for his family this April. He is accused of ensuring that his family would get a hefty compensation for the land. According to Industries Minister and Sena leader Subhash Desai, the land was in possession of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC). Khadse refuted Desai's version on Saturday and asked for a probe.
D-links: Khadse is accused of being in touch with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. An ethical hacker from Gujarat has alleged that calls were made to Khadse from Ibrahim's Karachi home. The Bombay High Court admitted a petition on May 30 filed by the hacker. The hearing of the case tomorrow. On Saturday, Khadse wanted the Anti-Terrorism Squad to probe him.
Graft charges: Khadse faces a charge that he took bribes through his frontmen. The state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) had arrested an alleged Khadse aide, Gajanan Patil, on the charge that he had demanded a bribe of R30 crore for land allotment on Khadse's behalf. On Friday, a federation of fishermen accused him of seeking R1 crore monthly in bribe from its members.