Mumbai: Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh Monday stepped down from his position following the Bombay High Court’s directions to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe allegations against him of running an extortion racket in Mumbai.
Deshmukh is the second minister to have resigned in the face of allegations of wrongdoing in the 14 months that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has been in power. This has given opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) more ammunition to target the three-party MVA, comprising former rivals Shiv Sena on one hand and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress on the other, with party leaders questioning CM Thackeray’s silence on the issue.
Deshmukh, a minister from the NCP, tweeted a copy of his resignation letter in Marathi, which he submitted to the CM Monday afternoon. It read: “The Bombay High Court has ordered a preliminary CBI inquiry on the complaints in a petition filed through Advocate Jayashree Patil. Accordingly, I don’t think it is ethically right for me to continue in the post of the state home minister, so I have myself decided to stay away from the post. I request you to relieve from the position of the state home minister.”
— ANIL DESHMUKH (@AnilDeshmukhNCP) April 5, 2021
An MLA from Katol in Vidarbha, Deshmukh is facing allegations of having instructed officers of the Mumbai Police, including suspended Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze, to collect Rs 100 crore from Mumbai’s bars and restaurants every month. The allegations were made by former Mumbai Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh in a letter to Thackeray last month.
Singh had then petitioned the Supreme Court seeking an inquiry into his allegations against Deshmukh. The Supreme Court asked the former police commissioner to approach the Bombay High Court.
The Bombay High Court’s ruling Monday came on a clutch of petitions on the matter, including Singh’s, city-based lawyers’ Jayshree Patil and Ghanshyam Upadhyay, and local teacher Mohan Bhide.
Allegations not true but court order should be respected: NCP
NCP Minister Nawab Malik, also party spokesperson, told reporters soon after the court ruling that Deshmukh had met NCP president Sharad Pawar and expressed his desire to resign.
“Pawar saheb supported this. Accordingly, Anil Deshmukh went to meet the CM to tender his resignation,” Malik said. “Right from the beginning, the party, all of us, have raised questions over the allegations against the home minister. We eventually decided to set up an inquiry under a retired judge. But, in the end, we need to respect court orders.”
he added: “We are still confident that there is no truth to the allegations made by Param Bir Singh.”
The MVA government has already set up an inquiry under retired judge Kailash Uttamchand Chandiwal to probe whether there is any evidence to support the contents of Singh’s explosive letter. The retired judge has been given six months to submit a report.
“The charge of the home department will for now be with the CM, who will take a decision about the next home minister,” Malik said. “It is a three-party government. A decision will be taken after consulting all allies.”
Second minister to resign
Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was vociferously demanding Deshmukh’s resignation after Param Bir Singh’s letter, the MVA had decided to shield him. NCP chief Pawar had even addressed two press conferences to back Deshmukh within 48 hours of the letter.
While a section of the Shiv Sena was keen on asking the home minister to step down, party sources said Thackeray decided to toe Pawar’s line for two reasons — one, going against Pawar’s public stance on this issue would have been a major point of friction between the NCP and the Shiv Sena, and two, the government did not want to set a precedent by making its ministers resign under pressure from the opposition.
The Congress, which was initially caught in a bind of whether to protect Deshmukh or speak up on the seriousness of the allegations, too decided to opt for the former rather than play into the BJP’s hands.
Some Shiv Sena leaders were keen on seeing Deshmukh resign as similar justice was meted out to party minister Sanjay Rathod, who was facing accusations of being involved in the death of a TikTok star.
As the controversy over Rathod’s alleged involvement was blazing, there was pressure from both the Congress and the NCP on CM Thackeray to act on it. Rathod, who held the forest portfolio, eventually resigned on 28 February, demanding a thorough inquiry into the allegations against him.
BJP shifts focus to CM Thackeray’s silence
Pravin Darekar, leader of opposition in the state legislative council, called Deshmukh’s resignation “wisdom that has come a bit late.”
The BJP leader, however, shifted his focus to CM Thackeray, criticising him for not having said a single word on the issue after his initial comments that appeared to protect Waze, who is at the centre of the entire controversy.
“What does the CM, who had questioned if Sachin Waze is Osama Bin Laden, have to say about the Waze issue now? He should clarify that,” Darekar tweeted.
#AnilDeshmukh यांचा राजीनामा हे उशीरा सुचलेले शहाणपण!
परंतु #SachinWaze काय ओसामा बिन लादेन आहे का? असं म्हणणाऱ्या मुख्यमंत्र्यांचे वाझे प्रकरणी आता काय मत आहे? ते स्पष्ट करावे!
कारण कुर्हाडीचा दांडा गोतास काळ म्हणजेचं आपलाच माणूस आपल्या पतनाला कारणीभूत असतो,असे म्हणतात!
— Pravin Darekar – प्रविण दरेकर (@mipravindarekar) April 5, 2021
Speaking to reports on the sidelines of the state assembly session last month, Thackeray had said, “Waze is not Osama Bin Laden. It is not right to target a person and hang him and then investigate.”
Waze is currently under the National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) custody for his alleged role in planting explosives outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.