Mumbai: As the opposition’s demands for Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh’s resignation grew louder Monday, leaders from the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition appeared to have decided to shield him.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Deshmukh is battling allegations of having called Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze to his official residence “in and around mid-February” and instructed him to collect Rs 100 crore a month from Mumbai’s bars and restaurants.
The allegations were made Saturday by former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh in an unprecedented letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, two days after he was redeployed as DG (Home Guards) following Waze’s arrest in connection with explosives found in a car parked outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house ‘Antilia’.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar Monday said Deshmukh, who had Covid in February, was out of commission for almost the entire month, first in hospital and later in home quarantine, and so, the question of his resignation does not arise.
Speaking to reporters, Pawar said: “The former CP had said the instructions for collection were given mid-February. According to the papers that I have, Anil Deshmukh was in the hospital from 5 February to 15 February. The hospital has given a certificate. Deshmukh was in the hospital and later in home quarantine. On the information received today, there is no basis for the allegations against Deshmukh, and hence, he will not resign.”
Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant too supported Pawar’s statement, saying: “Anil Deshmukh ji was in the hospital. What Pawar saheb is saying is right.”
Sawant added that he had had two online meetings with Deshmukh while he was at the hospital.
15 February press conference
The BJP, however, was quick to poke holes in Pawar’s defence, with Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Devendra Fadnavis sharing an old video where Deshmukh is seen addressing a press conference on 15 February.
Fadnavis, the former CM, tweeted: “Shri Sharad Pawar ji said from 15th to 27th February HM Anil Deshmukh was in home quarantine. But actually along with security guards & media he was seen taking press conference!”
Shri Sharad Pawar ji said, from 15th to 27th February HM Anil Deshmukh was in home quarantine.
But actually along with security guards & media he was seen taking press conference! https://t.co/r09U8MZW2m
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) March 22, 2021
Fadnavis also highlighted a text conversation that Param Bir Singh had mentioned in his letter to CM Thackeray, between the commissioner and ACP Sanjay Patil, in which the latter says Waze allegedly met Deshmukh towards the end of February.
“It seems Sharad Pawar ji is not briefed properly on Parambir Singh letter. In this lefter only, the SMS evidence shows that the meeting date was mentioned as end of February. Now who is diverting issue (sic)?”
It seems Sharad Pawar ji is not briefed properly on Parambir Singh letter.
In this lefter only, the SMS evidence shows that the meeting date was mentioned as end of February.
Now who is diverting issue? pic.twitter.com/CTHzQ7meZO
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) March 22, 2021
Following Fadnavis’ criticism, Deshmukh himself released a video statement saying he was in the hospital from 5 February to 15 February, and thereafter, in home quarantine till 27 February.
“On 15 February, I was discharged from the hospital. While I was being discharged and on my way out of the hospital, a number of journalists were waiting at the hospital gate. They wanted to ask me some questions, but because I had just recovered from Covid I didn’t have much strength, I was feeling weak. So, I sat on a chair near the gate of the hospital,” Deshmukh said in a video statement.
“I answered a few questions, sat in the car and then was home quarantined from 15 February to 27 February. On 28 February, I stepped out of my house for the first time and went to Sahyadri Guest House for a meeting.”
‘Why ask for resignation when govt ready for inquiry?’
Meanwhile, Sanjay Raut, Rajya Sabha MP for CM Thackeray’s party Shiv Sena, also defended Deshmukh, asking why the media is insistent on the home minister’s resignation when the government is ready for an inquiry.
Speaking to reporters in Delhi, Raut said: “Anil Deshmukh has called for an inquiry into the allegations (to be conducted) by the CM himself. Yesterday, Sharad Pawar also said the same… When the government is ready for an inquiry, why are you constantly asking about resignation? It is the CM’s right to make anyone a minister or take a minister’s resignation.”
Raut added that what happens to Deshmukh is not the most important issue in Maharashtra or the country, and the opposition can keep on making allegations.
The Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, Saamana, Monday questioned how Param Bir Singh, who the BJP had been targeting until now on issues, including the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide, has now become a “darling of the opposition”.
The editorial also said that while Singh’s letter had dented the image of the state home department, the government will not fall because of one officer.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)