Eknath Khadse, a prominent leader of the BJP in Maharashtra and the number two in cabinet, will lose his ministry following repeated allegations of corruption and his alleged telephonic conversation with fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim. Party sources confirmed that after a series of allegations against senior most minister about corruption Khadse may loose his berth in cabinet or an important portfolio like the Revenue Ministry.

Meanwhile Khadse met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday evening for around 40 minutes. Fadnavis has come out in support of Khadse in the past, but it appears the MIDC land case might be a little different. The internal meeting saw the minister being questioned on “why he was interested in seeking land marked for the MIDC”, according to a party insider.

The details of the meet have not been disclosed yet, but party insiders said that of the 12 departments Khadse heads, the most prominent one and the one he is most likely to lose is the revenue department. A decision is to be taken after the Rajya Sabha and Council election which is to be held on 10 June.

Among the latest of the corruption allegations against Khadse is the complaint filed by builder Hemant Gawande against the revenue minister, his wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Chaudhari, alleging that they bought a three-acre plot of MIDC land in Bhosari for a mere Rs 3.75 crore. Speaking to mediapersons in Pune, Gawande said, “The land was sold to Khadse in his wife and son-in-law’s name by one Abbas Ukani for Rs 3.75 crore. However, the actual value of the land is more than Rs 80 crore higher than that value.” He added, “”I waited for MIDC officials to take action against Khadse. But, since there was no action from any government agency, I decided to approach the police and filed a complaint at Bund Garden police station on Monday.”

File image of Eknath Khadse. PTI

File image of Eknath Khadse. PTI

Khadse, on his part, dismissed all the allegations saying, “The land at Bhosari MIDC is not in the hands of the MIDC. It belonged to a private owner and I have all the records in possession to show that the land is a private plot and not owned by government. Gawande is making all these baseless allegations. I am open to any inquiry and the police should carry out a thorough investigation in this case.” Far from being cowed down, he added, “I am not going to fall prey to these blackmailers’ tactics. I feel that a thorough probe should be carried out by the police in the present case.”

But that’s not all. There’s also the matter of the multi-crore irrigation scam in which Khadse also finds himself embroiled.

Social worker Anjali Damania — who has alleged that contracts given by the Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation (TIDC) are given to contractors that are close to him — said that she will be handing over all documents to the Anti-Corruption Bureau that is investigating the irrigation scam. She said that projects that are unfeasible and not required have all been allotted to contractors that are patronised by Khadse. Explaining the modus operandi on how the Khadse family receives kickbacks from these contractors, Damania said that the sugar company in which Khadse, his wife, his daughter Rohini and son-in-law Pranjal Khewalkar are all directors, was owned by two contractors who have received several contracts from the TIDC.

She has also demanded that Fadnavis launch an immediate inquiry against Khadse. “We will give Fadnavis 48 hours to take action on the corrupt minister, otherwise we will stage a protest outside his official residence, the Varsha bungalow, on Wednesday,” Damania told Firstpost, adding, “We are also following the case of Khadse’s son-in-law’s Hyundai Sonata vehicle that is not registered in the state.”

The BJP has so far, been countering Damania’s allegation, with state spokesperson Madhav Bhandari saying, “These are mere allegations and are baseless.”

The Opposition in the state (including the Congress and NCP) has meanwhile demanded that Khadse be sacked. The BJP’s own ally, the Shiv Sena has also been sending out feelers that Khadse be sacked, with industry minister and Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai asking for a detailed inquiry into the land-grabbing case.

Khadse’s woes, however, don’t end with corruption allegations.

The Aam Aadmi Party had recently demanded the ouster of Khadse, alleging that calls were made from Dawood’s residence in Karachi to the revenue minister’s mobile phone — a charge Khadse had rubbished as “baseless”, adding that the phone number had not been in use for the past year.

What next?

Like the Opposition, alliance-members and party office-bearers also want Khadse’s removal, said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity. But in Maharashtra, it appears caste politics are pressurising Fadnavis against taking action. Fadnavis is from the Brahmin community, while Khadse belongs to the Levedar Patil community, which is part of the OBC list. After Gopinath Munde’s death, there is no senior OBC leader like Khadse in the party. While in the past, Maratha strongman and education minister Vinod Tawde and another OBC face Pankaja Munde Palwe also faced corruption allegations, they were both in the race to become chief minister.

But within a year, there have been corruption allegations against both of them as also against Khadse, said party insiders.

Khadse’s alleged involvement in these cases has put the BJP in a tricky position. Despite the party’s image in the state taking a beating over Khadse’s involvement, reports had earlier said that CM Fadnavis will be reluctant to act against the revenue minister because the controversial minister is a Jalgaon strongman and enjoys a support base in the district.

According to a source in Delhi, BJP president Amit Shah was believed to have sent an indirect message to Khadse to remain quiet and desist from making statements to the media. Also, he is believed to have said that Fadnavis should take action on the allegations against Khadse. Sources also confirms that till Fadnavis takes action against Khadse, cabinet extension will not be green-lit by the party.

The fate of Khadse is in Fadnavis’ hands.

Will he expelled from the cabinet or merely relieved of some key portfolios like Revenue and Excise?

Wait and watch.

For now, as per his schedule for Tuesday, Khadse will not be attending cabinet at 11 am at Mantralaya. Instead, he will be in his constituency of Muktainagar, Jalgaon for the entire day.

With inputs from PTI

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Eknath Khadse out? His fate rests firmly in Devendra Fadnavis’ hands