Mumbai: In a late night meeting Thursday, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) decided to ask the government to distribute portfolios held by Maharashtra Cabinet Minister and party leader Nawab Malik among his NCP colleagues. Malik — who is currently in judicial custody after being arrested last month by the Enforcement Directorate for alleged money laundering and links with the underworld — will, however, retain his rank of minister, said the party. The NCP leader holds the the portfolios of skill development and minority affairs in the Maharashtra government.
The decision followed an over-two-hour meeting between NCP chief Sharad Pawar and other party leaders, at the former’s Mumbai residence. Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, ministers Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse Patil and Jayant Patil and senior party leaders Praful Patel and Sunil Tatkare, were among those who attended the meeting.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Maharashtra NCP chief and cabinet minister Jayant Patil said, “His (Malik’s) bail plea was rejected once again. Hence, the charge of his responsibilities will be given to others in the next two to four days. We have decided to make this alternate temporary arrangement until he is available again.”
Patil added that it was thought necessary to distribute Malik’s responsibilities among other leaders since work in the departments held by him have suffered in his absence. “We will write to the chief minister on this and he will take the final call,” said Patil.
According to party sources, while Malik’s skill development portfolio is likely to go to NCP’s Rajesh Tope, the charge of minority affairs may be given to MLA Jitendra Awhad. A final call in the matter will be taken by Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray.
Nawab Malik is also ‘guardian minister’ of two districts — Parbhani and Gondia, and Patil told reporters that while party leader Dhananjay Munde will function as ‘guardian minister’ for Parbhani, Prajakt Tanpure will be in charge of Gondia.
While Malik was also NCP’s Mumbai unit head, Patil informed that in view of the upcoming Mumbai civic body elections, the party has decided to appoint two working presidents for its Mumbai unit — Narendra Rane and Rakhi Jadhav.
Demands for Malik’s resignation from the cabinet had rocked the assembly earlier this month, with BJP MLAs raising slogans of “Nawab Malik kaun hai? Dawood ka dalaal hai (Who is Nawab Malik? He is Dawood’s middleman).”
But even though the NCP has decided to reassign Malik’s portfolio for ease of work, Patil maintained that Malik “was arrested in a wrong manner hence (there was) no question of taking his resignation”, reiterating the party’s earlier support to the minister.
‘A hands-on minister’
Sources in the skill development and minority affairs departments reached by ThePrint claimed Malik was a hands-on minister, who knew what he wanted and would delegate work accordingly.
In his absence the departments have been handled by the respective ministers of state (MoS) — Shivsena’s Shambhuraje Desai for skill development and Vishwajeet Kadam for minority affairs. Questions related to the two departments raised in the ongoing Maharashtra assembly session (scheduled to end on 25 March) were also responded to by the two MoS, according to protocol.
“It has been about three weeks since his absence, but we have not let work in the department halt because of it. Major work did not suffer as I am also authorised to sign the files,” Desai told ThePrint.
He added: “No major financial matter has come up in this period, since fund was already allotted (for departmental work), so I have had to mostly look after things like reviewing departmental work.”
The other reason why departmental work was not hampered by Malik’s absence, according to sources in the skill development department, is that the duties were already well allocated from the beginning.
“Now that the party has decided to give charge of the department to Tope (a reference to likely choice Rajesh Tope), I will sit with him Monday and review the work him,” said Desai.
ThePrint also reached minority affairs MoS Vishwajeet Kadam over phone, but there was no response till the publication of this report.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)