Mumbai: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar has been allotted room number 602 in Mantralaya. But since being sworn in Monday, Pawar has gone nowhere near the office, since it is considered “unlucky”.
Sources told ThePrint that on Tuesday, his first day at work since taking oath, Pawar occupied the room of Principal Secretary Sitaram Kunte, which he is keen to have on a permanent basis.
IAS officer Kunte’s room is boxed in between the CM and the deputy CM’s offices on the sixth floor, and is spacious enough to be converted into Pawar’s office. So, the PWD has been asked to make the necessary modifications and shift Kunte to room 602 instead, said sources in the PWD source and the general administration department.
Confirming this, a Maharashtra government functionary told ThePrint: “Ajit Pawar has not even gone in the direction of room 602. He has told the PWD that he will be sitting in Kunte’s room.”
Kunte said the PWD allotted him Room 602 according to “the revised occupation schedule”. “It is a government office, and if I am told to move, I have to,” he told ThePrint when asked how he felt about occupying the “unlucky” room.
Addressing a press conference Thursday noon, Ajit Pawar, however, denied that he believed in superstition when selecting an office. “The office was given to me on seniority basis by the chief minister. I do not believe in such superstition. I did not even take my oath of office with the words ‘With God as witness’,” he said.
The ‘unlucky’ tag
The previous occupants of room 602 include Chhagan Bhujbal, Eknath Khadse, Pandurang Fundkar and Anil Bonde — all of whom were mired in numerous controversies which cut short their ministerial tenures.
Pawar is known to be someone who does not believe in astrologers or religion. But the fate of the previous occupants is not lost on him.
Bhujbal occupied this room when he was deputy chief minister in charge of the Home portfolio from 1999 to 2003, but faced several corruption allegations and eventually resigned from Sushil Kumar Shinde’s cabinet in December 2003. The Enforcement Directorate was probing money laundering charges against him, but he returned to the cabinet as public works minister on 1 November 2004 and served until 26 September 2014. He became deputy CM again between 8 December 2008 and 10 November 2010. He was eventually arrested by the ED in March 2016, spent two years in jail, and was granted bail on 4 May 2018.
Devendra Fadnavis, the chief minister from 2014 to 2019, did not have a deputy, so the room was allotted to Khadse, the revenue and agriculture minister. Khadse faced several allegations of corruption and was forced to resign. Although an Anti-Corruption Bureau probe later gave him a clean chit, Khadse never made it back into the Fadnavis cabinet, and was sidelined by the BJP. He has recently met Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar to discuss the possibility of joining the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government.
Fundkar was inducted into the Fadnavis cabinet in July 2016, and given the agriculture portfolio and allotted room 602. Although he held an important portfolio, Fundkar never got the due importance from Fadnavis or the BJP, and was vocally unhappy about the portfolio allocation. He died of a massive cardiac arrest on 31 March 2018, while still being the agriculture minister.
Bonde was inducted into the Fadnavis cabinet on 16 July 2019 and given the agriculture portfolio. But it was a caretaker stint, since the state was poll-bound and most important agriculture-related decisions were taken by Fadnavis himself.
Numerologist Shrenik Patnaik said room 602 is inauspicious.
“The total number of this room adds up to eight (6 plus 2), which is considered to be inauspicious by Hindus. Eight is considered to be the number of Saturn, also known as Shani, which is not often considered lucky,” Patnaik said.
Sitaram Kunte, who will be sitting in this room now, said this “unlucky” tag could “play on the mind”.
“All government offices are very old. There are histories to them all. Though I do not believe it all this, well it could play on the mind,” Kunte told ThePrint.
The office vacated by Kunte for Ajit Pawar was allotted to the additional chief secretary of general administration department in 2014, after Mantralaya was renovated. In 2013, parts of Mantralaya was gutted in a fire leading to reallocation of offices.
Incidentally, Maharashtra is one of the progressive states that even has an Anti-Superstition Act in place, which makes black magic and superstitious practices as a punishable offence with imprisonment and a heavy penalty.
(This report has been updated to add Sitaram Kunte and Ajit Pawar’s statements.)