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Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra is under immense pressure to act against its senior leader and minister Eknath Khadse, who is facing charges of corruption and misuse of ministerial position. A state BJP leader, who did not want to be named, said the central leadership was taking stock of the situation and may decide “on Khadse’s future" in a day or two. Khadse is also likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah in Delhi on Thursday or Friday, added this person. Shah, he said, has already asked for a report on Khadse. The minister could well be asked to go, said the leader.

On Thursday, the Shiv Sena, which is one of the oldest constituents of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), joined the calls for Khadse’s resignation. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut told Marathi news channel ABP Majha that Khadse should resign on his own or chief minister Devendra Fadnavis should sack him. Raut reminded Fadnavis that he (Fadnavis) still had the image of a transparent and clean politician and he should stick to it by taking action against corruption.

The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Aam Aadmi Party have already called for Khadse’s resignation. In a quick response to the Shiv Sena’s intervention, BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said the Sena had no business interfering in “BJP’s internal issues".

Khadse, who holds the key revenue and agriculture portfolios and is the most senior BJP leader in the state, has been accused of misusing his ministerial position to help his family purchase a three-acre plot in Bhosari near Pune for a much cheaper price than the market value.

On Thursday, the Indian Express reported that Khadse’s family bought the land for 3.75 crore from one Abbas Ukani and paid a stamp duty of 1.37 crore. However, as per the ready reckoner rates for this region and the stamp duty paid by Khadse’s family, the actual market value of the property works out to 31.01 crore, the newspaper reported. Such transactions have to be cleared by the district collector but that didn’t happen in this case. The report hinted at the possibility of unaccounted or black money being used.

Khadse’s family has also been accused of purchasing the land, though it belongs to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC). Maharashtra industry minister Subhash Desai, who is a senior Shiv Sena leader, has categorically stated that the land is owned by the MIDC and cannot be sold or purchased by an individual.

In May, the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested Khadse’s personal assistant Gajanan Patil on charges that he had demanded a bribe of 30 crore to settle a land deal. Khadse has since denied that Patil was his assistant and added that the market rate of the land in question was not more than 5 crore and there was no way Patil could have asked for a bribe of 30 crore. Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant cited revenue records to claim that the market value of the land was actually 226 crore.

Apart from these allegations, Khadse’s mobile phone number has been named by ethical hacker Manish Bhangale as one of the four “frequently called numbers" from underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s residence in Karachi in Pakistan between September 2015 and April 2016. Khadse has denied ever talking to Ibrahim and claimed that technology could be misused to demonstrate that such calls have been made. The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad is probing this allegation.

A BJP legislator, who requested anonymity, admitted that the party, especially chief minister Fadnavis, was in a fix over Khadse.

“Khadse is our senior leader and the only prominent leader of the other backward classes (OBC) in the state. If we have to sacrifice him, we have to be ready to bear the political cost. But the charges are serious enough to merit some action," the legislator said. He, however, added that taking action against a senior minister when the government had not even completed two years in Maharashtra would be “unsettling and demoralizing for the cadre".

Not as unsettling as his continued presence may be for BJP leaders seeking to portray their party as one that is free of corruption.

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