Dharmendra Jore: Will Cong sustain it?
Onus is on the opposition party to prove itself right in the Navi Mumbai land scam allegations against the chief minister and his party colleague
After a long lull, the Congress has stirred up Maharashtra's political scene, by putting chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in the dock, over a land deal in Navi Mumbai. As in the past, another CM has now courted, directly or indirectly, a controversy in a matter related to the real estate business, a subject which is dear to all politicians. Coinciding with instances in the previous Congress-NCP governments and the Sena-BJP regime that ruled the state two decades ago, a ruling party leader, who claims to be very close to the CM, has been accused of corrupt practices for personal gains in this particular matter.
We have seen some such cases reach a logical end, with the CMs quitting the office. Then, too, a coterie of certain politicians and bureaucrats was blamed for the respective CM's downfall. It is a practice in political circles to spy on the coteries for their role in endeavours that can be labelled 'irregular'. Moles in the government, estranged party colleagues, and upset stakeholders in the business concerned ensure a constant flow of information that can be exploited politically.
When the allegations were reiterated in the ongoing Monsoon Session in Nagpur, Fadnavis ordered a judicial inquiry. A day after, he stayed all transactions in the particular land deal between eight project-affected people and Paradise Developers, which according to official information, had been party to similar controversial deals in the past.
Fadnavis has cited similar deals in the past, which he says were thoroughly legal even in the previous governments. He has declared a judicial probe, not only in a deal in which he has been named, but also those that happened before his tenure started. The CM has promised a standard operating procedure for the future, without compromising the interest of PAPs. Fadnavis' move seems to have silenced some leaders who had held the CM's office in the past.
The Nationalist Congress Party, which was accused of great corruption by BJP and now faces some cases, has not joined the Congress in raising the allegations. With no concrete inference, one can say, either NCP does not want to trouble the government for obvious reasons, or it does not see any truth in the allegations.
Undoubtedly, it is the most serious charge that Fadnavis faces as he is about to complete four years in office. The Congress has blamed him and others for incurring a loss of Rs 1,700-cr by way of facilitating the deal for peanuts – Rs 3.50-cr. The opposition party claims that the developer would exploit the land for commercial gains and pocket a huge profit.
The 24 acres of land in Navi Mumbai was allotted to PAPs who sold it to the developer. The Congress has alleged that the prime land belonged to CIDCO which colluded with the people close to the CM to facilitate the allotment and transfer to the developer. The transaction was completed in just one day, they say, adding that this cannot happen without intervention of the top office.
The land in question is in the vicinity of the upcoming Navi Mumbai Airport where the real estate prices have skyrocketed. The Congress claims to have documents in possession that should prove that the CM's close aide is friends with the developer and he could even be one of the partners in the project. The CM's aide has approached a court to sue the Congress leaders for defamation, claiming a compensation of Rs 500 crore.
Onus on the Congress
An elated Congress sees the defamation suit as an opportunity to produce documents before court to prove its charges. If this case takes legal recourse, it would be akin to the BJP's style of functioning when it was in opposition. The BJP had moved court in several matters that had put the then ruling leaders in the dock. A series of court cases had helped BJP in creating an anti-establishment sentiment ahead of the 2014 polls.
Some Congress leaders see a victory in announcement of a judicial probe and staying of further transactions in a deal they have questioned. On the other hand, the BJP sees it as a transparent procedure in which keeping status quo on all matters related was a basic requirement for facilitating a free and fair probe. Barring Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam, other Congress leaders including some ex-CMs seem to have prematurely lost steam after Fadnavis ordered an inquiry in 200 similar deals in the Congress regime.
It would be interesting to see how the Congress proves itself right before the judicial commission and the court that takes up this particular case, be it defamation or any other petition in the alleged scam.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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