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Why is this minister still in office?

He hosted such an extravagant wedding reception for his children at Chiplun last week that the Income Tax officers came visiting. Even his party chief Sharad Pawar had to wag a disapproving finger, saying that he couldn’t sleep after watching visuals of the lavish ceremony on television.

Bhaskar Jadhav
Around 60,000 people attended the wedding hosted by Bhaskar Jadhav in Chiplun on February 13

And while it was generally perceived that the celebrations were in exceptionally poor taste against the backdrop of a severe drought in the state, the fact that the money for the grand affair had come from the coffers of a contractor plunged NCP man Bhaskar Jadhav headlong into controversy. And yet, Jadhav is still sitting in office, and dispensing his duties as minister of state for Urban Development, with not so much as a word of censure from Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, or deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who is also an NCP leader.

Bhaskar Jadhav
Bhaskar Jadhav is still sitting in office, and dispensing his duties as minister of state for Urban Development, with not so much as a word of censure from CM Prithviraj Chavan, or deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who is also an NCP leader. File pic

The rumour mills were swirling about Jadhav’s offer to quit yesterday. While the minister was not available for comment, his party colleagues vehemently denied the reports. “Even if he wants to quit, he will do so only after a meeting with Pawar Senior and nobody else in the party,” said an NCP leader in confidence. “In fact he should have put in his papers soon after the union agriculture minister made the strong comments,” he added.

The controversy over the big fat wedding appears to have polarised the party. While Deputy CM Ajit Pawar attended the grand reception at Chiplun in Ratnagiri on February 13, Pawar Senior was in Goa and made his disapproval clear. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan also attended the reception and even made an overnight stay before leaving for Pune on the morning of February 14.

Both Chavan - under who’s leadership Jadhav discharges his duties as minister of state - and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar - who heads the NCP legislature party - have refrained from commenting on the controversy. Even the contractor, who footed the bills for food and the ostentatious decoration, works for the water resources department, which was once headed by Pawar Jr.

Rise, no fall
Exactly 30 years ago in 1983, Jadhav, who is now 55, was a little-known face in state politics: a Shiv Sainik who graduated to Vibhag Pramukh of Sawarde in 1986. He won his first Assembly election in 1995 from Chiplun. He joined the NCP in 2005 and was subsequently elected to the State Council in 2006.

Even after Pawar Senior’s strong displeasure following the wedding, Jadhav has neither been asked by the party to put in his papers, nor been taken to task by the CM. In fact, the contractor who ‘funded’ the ceremony hails from Karad, Chavan’s hometown. Approximately 60,000 people attended the wedding and the reception that followed. The banquet was laid out by a catering team of 400 people from Aurangabad. All this while, the state reeled under water scarcity.

NCP spokesman Nawab Malik denied that Jadhav had offered to quit. “The minister of state has already said he will quit politics if it is proved that he did something wrong,” said Malik. Referring to the visit from Income Tax officers to search Jadhav’s premises, he explained that a wing in the IT department monitors large weddings, and the visit was part of their routine.

Hands tied?
As per the code of conduct that is shared by the NCP and the Congress to help them share power smoothly, each party will gets to decide on its ministers and their portfolios. It is precisely this that denied Chavan any say on the re-entry of Ajit Pawar into the state cabinet last year. Nor could he react to the serious charges against PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare and Minister of State for Transport Gulabrao Deokar.

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