Mumbai: In a major blow to the 19-month-old Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra, revenue and agricultural minister Eknath Khadse resigned on Saturday in the wake of charges of corruption and misuse of power.
Khadse, the senior most Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in the state, met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday morning at the latter's official residence 'Varsha' and submitted his resignation.
It could not be confirmed if Khadse resigned all his portfolios or only quit the revenue portfolio. Khadse holds nine portfolios in the cabinet. He is also a senior politician from the other backward classes (OBC) in Maharashtra which is a politically sensitive constituency for the BJP.
A state BJP functionary who did not wish to be named said Khadse's vacancy would most likely be filled up by another prominent OBC leader from the party adding the candidate had not been finalised. He admitted that the resignation was a huge embarrassment for the BJP.
"The party leadership was taking a look at all allegations against Khadse and weighing the pros and cons of every possible option. Though the stepping down by a senior minister on corruption charges is a big embarrassment, the party probably thought that retaining Khadse would do a bigger political damage than sacking him," said the BJP functionary.
It is for the first time that a senior BJP minister has resigned on corruption charges so early in the tenure of any BJP government in state or at the Centre. Social activist Anjali Damania, who has pursued charges against Khadse and was on an indefinite fast to demand his resignation, however said she was not content with only resignation. "There should be an independent and indepth inquiry into all charges against Khadse if the BJP really means to fight corruption," Damania said.
All opposition parties including Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, and Aam Admi Party, had demanded Khadse'a resignation.
Khadse, 63, faces three major charges also involving his wife and son-in-law. He has been accused of using his powers as the revenue minister to help his kin purchase a three acre plot in Pune. Maharashtra industry minister Subhash Desai, who is from the Shiv Sena which had demanded Khadse's resignation, has claimed that the plot is owned by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC).
In May the Maharashtra Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested Khadse's alleged personal assistant Gajanan Patil on the charge that he had demanded a bribe of ₹ 30 crore on behalf of an unnamed 'saheb' (boss) to settle a land deal. Ethical hacker Manish Bhangale has named Khadse's mobile number as one of the frequently called numbers by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim's Karachi based residence. This charge is being investigated by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad.
However Khadse has denied his or his family's involvement and described all charges as politically motivated and fabricated.
On Thursday Fadnavis had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in Delhi. Fadnavis also submitted to Shah what he called a 'factual report' on controversies involving Khadse and said the party leadership would now take a call. The state BJP functionary quoted earlier said the BJP president had asked Fadnavis to seek Khadse's resignation after elections to the 11 seats of Maharashtra legislative council were over. These elections concluded on Friday.