Mumbai: At a time when the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) has been crying foul over central agencies allegedly targeting its leaders, Sharad Pawar, known as the coalition’s architect, has said that several ministers from the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre similarly targeted Narendra Modi when he was Gujarat chief minister. However, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief added that he and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn’t approve of it.
Speaking to Loksatta’s Editor-in-Chief Girish Kuber at an event organised by the Marathi newspaper Wednesday, Pawar said, back then, he was the only Union minister who held conversations with Modi and visited Gujarat at the state government’s request, and his Congress colleagues in the UPA cabinet raised questions over this.
“Me and the PM were insistent that we should not resort to politics of vengeance. We can criticise however much we like, but there is a certain limit that we should not cross. But some of our cabinet colleagues took a different, tangential stand regarding the then Gujarat government. This was not in line with what we were thinking,” Pawar said, responding to a question on the UPA’s use of central agencies to probe political detractors.
However, Pawar didn’t name the leaders.
During the UPA’s reign from 2004 to 2014, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had probed many senior police officers and leaders close to Modi for their alleged involvement in cases such as the 2002 Gujarat riots, and the alleged fake encounters of Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsi Prajapati. Modi as Gujarat CM had lashed out at the CBI slamming it as “Congress Bureau of Investigation”.
The ruling MVA comprising Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of misusing its power in the Union government to target political opponents in Maharashtra using central agencies.
The Enforcement Directorate has taken some action directly or indirectly against at least half a dozen leaders belonging to MVA parties, and even arrested NCP leader Anil Deshmukh, former Maharashtra home minister, on money laundering allegations.
‘I was the only one who could talk to Modi’
Speaking at the Loksatta event, Pawar said whenever PM Manmohan Singh would call for a meeting with CMs of states, Modi would target the Centre the most ruthlessly and CMs of all BJP-led states would launch a joint attack.
Within the Congress, leaders would anticipate this attack and plan in advance on how to respond to it and who should respond to it every time there were such meetings, he added.
“The gap between Modi and the Union government had widened a lot. There was not a single minister in the Union cabinet except me who could hold a conversation with Narendra Modi. The reason for that was that he used to come to me,” Pawar said.
“Some Congress leaders raised this issue and I told them, Narendra Modi’s party, his politics has got nothing to do with either you or me. But he is the CM of a state. The people of that state have given him the power and when he brings issues concerning their welfare, it is our responsibility to ensure that our political differences do not come in the way,” Pawar said.
“And I don’t mind sharing that Manmohan Singh backed my point of view,” he added.
The octogenarian said he was the only Union minister who would visit Gujarat on the request of the state government and look into people’s issues there. He cited how he had got Maharashtra and Gujarat on the same table to try to resolve the tiff between the two states on sharing water from the river Narmada.
‘7,000-page charge sheet against Deshmukh is extreme’
Pawar said he doesn’t believe in politics of vengeance, and targeting of MVA leaders such as Deshmukh is also extreme.
Deshmukh had to resign as state home minister after former Mumbai Police Chief Param Bir Singh in a letter to Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray in March this year alleged that Deshmukh had instructed Mumbai Police officers to collect Rs 100 crore from the city’s bars and restaurants every month.
The Bombay High Court ordered the CBI to conduct a preliminary probe, after which the central agency registered an FIR in the case, and the ED too started an investigation into allegations of money laundering.
“Among all the allegations against him (Deshmukh), there was only one where it felt like one may have to think about it. That allegation is that he took money from a company to help an education institution associated with him and that he did that by misusing his position in the government,” Pawar said.
“The investigation agencies probed into it and presented a 7,000-page chargesheet in the court against him. I don’t understand this, there is one issue and just on that a 7,000-page charge sheet is prepared. This shows how extreme this is,” Pawar said.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)