ACB's timing in shutting Maharashtra irrigation scam cases is questionable, brings back memories of Mukul Roy, Himanta Biswa Sarma
For the moment, let us concentrate on Ajit Pawar, the deputy chief minister in Maharashtra's as yet non-existent government. Just when the Nationalist Congress Party stitched together a deal with the Congress and the Shiv Sena to stake claim to forming a government that would shut the BJP out of one of the country's largest and richest states, the man made a clandestine, practically midnight, deal that enabled the BJP to keep the levers of power in its own hands. Gubernatorial assistance, needless to say, was there for the asking.
Just when NCP stitched together a deal with Congress and Shiv Sena to form a government in Maharashtra, Ajit made a clandestine, practically midnight, deal that enabled the BJP to keep the levers of power in its own hands
It is by no means certain that Ajit Pawar has the kind of heft required to deliver the necessary numbers to his new allies
For some time now, a new juridico-political paradigm has been emerging in India. Within it political leaders who are accused of corruption and being investigated in cases of serious fraud and corruption can make these cases simply go out of the window by adopting a very simple expedient: extending support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in one form or another. The best way is by jumping ship and joining the party.
Obviously, there is a direct corollary to this element of the paradigm. If you are a political figure and your politics is in any way opposed to that of the BJP, rest assured that any skeletons you may be trying to hide will be ruthlessly disinterred by the superlatively efficient and diligent sleuths of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and other agencies.
We have noted earlier, in these columns, the happy outcomes achieved by many a fortunate politico, whom we shall revisit later. For the moment, let us concentrate on Ajit Pawar, the deputy chief minister in Maharashtra's as yet non-existent government. Just when Ajit's party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) stitched together a deal with the Congress and the Shiv Sena to stake claim to forming a government that would shut the BJP out of one of the country's largest and richest states, the man made a clandestine, practically midnight, deal that enabled the BJP to keep the levers of power in its own hands. Gubernatorial assistance, needless to say, was there for the asking.
Well, matters are in the highest court in the land and it is by no means certain that the BJP-Ajit axis will ultimately get to form a government in Maharashtra. Unfortunately, one of the foundational constitutional principles of government-formation has not yet been completely expunged: the executive, or government, still has to command a majority in the Lower House or Legislative Assembly. It is by no means certain that Ajit has the kind of heft required to deliver the necessary numbers to his new political masters or allies.
That will probably not bother the prodigal nephew overmuch considering the fact that well within 48 hours of his ascension to the office of deputy chief minister simultaneously with Devendra Fadnavis's ascension for the second time to the office of chief minister, the NCP got a very neat gift from the government well in advance of the New Year. Investigations into nine cases of multi-crore irrigation scam, when Ajit was the water resource minister, were withdrawn and the cases closed.
Sometimes, just sometimes, the ruling party feels the need to obfuscate instead of being its usual brazen self. Take a number of statements issued by the director-general of Maharashtra's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Parambir Singh about these cases. At 4.32 pm on Monday he said: "We will issue a clarification soon. These weren't even the cases related to Ajit Pawar."
This was exactly 11 minutes after he was quoted by a news agency as having said, "We are investigating around 3,000 tenders in irrigation-related complaints. These are routine inquiries which are closed and all ongoing investigations are continuing as they were earlier."
Four minutes before this claim, the ACB had claimed that in the list of cases doing the rounds of the social media (as having being closed, one presumes), none were related to Ajit Pawar. Practically in the same breath it added that the cases that had been closed on Monday had been closed provisionally and could be reopened at any time if more information came to light or if a relevant court ordered further enquiries.
The fact of the matter is, and this is indisputable, that over the period of time when this scam worth Rs 70,000 crore was perpetrated, Ajit was for a considerable period of time the minister of irrigation in the Congress-NCP government. In fact, he was the irrigation/water resources minister from 1999 when the coalition government came to power. So, the statements put out by the ACB will certainly qualify as a whole lot of smoke and mirrors, considering the fact that each of them skirt the issues raised instead of making a simple comprehensible point.
Like, say: No case of corruption against Shri Ajit Pawar has been closed in the irrigation scam. He is being investigated in exactly the same way as before.
But we've seen time and time again that such candour is not the stuff of life when the bureaucracy and politics gets mixed up. We have had reason to note in the past that while the investigative agencies have been extremely assiduous in acting against, say, Congress leaders like P Chidambaram and DK Shivakumar, somehow Opposition leaders who were being probed at one point of time, just went off the investigative radar when they joined the BJP. Among them were Assam deputy chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who switched from the Congress, and Mukul Roy, who left the Trinamool Congress to join the ruling party.
Among those who did not have to switch to have their affairs be allowed to remain under wraps were Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa and the notorious Reddy brothers of Bellary district in Karnataka. As things stand, however, Ajit Pawar better hope that he and his new found allies are assisted in the manufacturing of a majority in the Legislative Assembly by some kind of deus ex machina.
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