Mumbai: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, Jitendra Awhad, announced his decision to resign from his post as member of the Maharashtra assembly (MLA) Monday, amidst a continuing cold war between him and state Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
The announcement follows a three-day drama over the MLA being booked for alleged forcible cancellation of the screening of a Marathi movie in the state’s Thane district, his arrest, being released on bail, and subsequently being accused of outraging a woman’s modesty at an event Sunday.
“I can tolerate anything, but this allegation under section 354 of IPC (Indian Penal Code section relating to assault or use of criminal force on any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that her modesty will be outraged) is something I can’t tolerate. I have been in politics for the past 35 years. Politics should happen, but stooping to this level and putting allegations is wrong,” Awhad said at a press conference.
The NCP has slammed the allegations against the MLA as “targetting” of Awhad, since he is a critical voice from Shinde’s home turf, Thane.
While Awhad’s constituency, Mumbra-Kalwa, is part of the Thane district, Thane City is Shinde’s hometown. Following the death of Shiv Sena leader Anand Dighe — who enjoyed a stronghold in Thane — last year, Shinde has emerged as the dominant voice in the district.
“Eknath Shinde has a hold over Thane district and NCP has no other face than Jitendra Awhad in that constituency. So both want to maintain and prove their hold. Hence for the past few years, there is a constant completion to take credit,” said political analyst Hemant Desai.
Adding that a new power centre in the form of Shrikant Shinde, CM Shinde’s son and member of Parliament from Kalyan (also in Thane district) was emerging, Desai said, “And hence Awhad is also picking up emotional issues to stay relevant. Also, Mumbra is a Muslim-dominated constituency and with Shinde taking the Hindutva route, it is all the more important for Awhad to keep his constituency intact and for Shinde to not lose his hold over the district.”
While speaking to the media Monday evening, CM Shinde said, “I am not aware if he (Awhad) has submitted his resignation or not. But police will investigate this matter and decide whether there is merit in the complaint or not. We are not acting out of vendetta.”
Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha Speaker, Rahul Narvekar, has meanwhile said that he hasn’t received any resignation from Awhad. “I still haven’t received any resignation from Awhad or any other leader. Awhad is a senior member who has been working as an MLA for the past 15-odd years. So if at all he has to resign, he knows who is the right person to submit his resignation to.”
The cases against Awhad
The Mumbra-Kalwa MLA was embroiled in a controversy last week when he allegedly forcibly cancelled the screening of a Marathi movie, Har Har Mahadev, claiming that it distorted historical facts about Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Maratha history and “should not be allowed to be screened in the state”.
The FIR registered in the case booked the MLA and several NCP workers under IPC sections related to rioting, voluntarily causing hurt and provoking breach of trust. Awhad was also accused of assaulting the moviegoers, which he has denied doing.
The MLA was arrested Friday, along with other 11 other NCP workers, but released on bail a day later.
But while attending the inauguration of a new bridge in his constituency Sunday, an event where CM Shinde was also present, Awhad allegedly pushed a woman, grabbing her with both hands.
While the MLA has claimed that he was trying to make his way through the crowd, the woman — a social activist and BJP Mahila Morcha leader — has accused him of outraging her modesty.
“You move people aside with one hand, while you use both your hands to grab the woman and move her aside. That’s not done. FIR has been registered. So I demand that whatever is there in law, it should be applicable to him as well,” she told the media Monday.
Shinde vs Awhad
According to political analysts Shinde and Awhad have long been involved in a credits war in Thane.
Even at Sunday’s event, Shrikant Shinde and Awhad were engaged in a war of words over who built the bridge
While Shrikant Shinde said that the project had been delayed and was completed after the present government under CM Shinde and vice CM Devendra Fadnavis came to power earlier this year, Awhad countered this by saying that it was a government work and had started during his tenure as MLA.
Even when the former united Shiv Sena (under Uddhav Thackeray) and the NCP were coalition partners in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government (which collapsed earlier this year after the Eknath Shinde-led rebellion which saw a division in the Sena), Awhad and Sinde had been engaged in a credits war over another bridge, inaugurated in Kharegaon in Kalwa, Thane, in January this year.
Awhad had said then that the real development of Kalwa started when he became the MLA in 2009, Shinde claimed nobody should take credit for the bridge as all parties had worked together.
According to Desai, it is now Shrikant Shinde who is trying to establish himself in the district, thus intensifying the credits war and power play here.
‘Awhad only voice from Thane speaking against govt’
Meanwhile, NCP leaders have come out in support of Awhad.
NCP state chief Jayant Patil said Monday that the police will have to explain their actions, since they allegedly registered the case late at night, while the incident happened in the evening in front of police personnel.
He added: “It seems that Awhad has become the eyesore of the opponents and government. There is no one from the district speaking against the government and hence he is being targeted.”
Another party colleague, Ajit Pawar, added: “I insist that the way this case has been registered is wrong and it needs to be withdrawn. Also, I would like to appeal to Awhad to not take such a step (not resign).”
He further said that the case was registered despite the CM being present “just 10 metres away” and “in the video (of the event) it is seen that he (Awhad) is asking the crowd to move aside and was also trying to make the woman step aside. Nothing more happened. The chief minister should come forward and explain that nothing of this sort happened”.
Awhad has meanwhile said that he has spoken to NCP chief Sharad Pawar about his resignation and “Pawar and other senior leaders of the party will decide whether or not to accept this resignation or not”.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)