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Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Rathod becomes first minister to resign from Maha Vikas Aghadi govt

Sanjay Rathod, who held the forest portfolio in the Maharashtra govt, tendered his resignation to CM Uddhav Thackeray after an hour-long meeting Sunday afternoon.

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Mumbai: Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Rathod resigned as cabinet minister from the Maharashtra government Sunday, following allegations of his connection with a TikTok star’s death and a public gathering violating Covid restrictions.

Rathod, who held the forest portfolio in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, met the chief minister at his official residence, Varsha, Sunday afternoon and submitted his resignation after an hour-long meeting. Cabinet ministers Eknath Shinde, Anil Parab and Aaditya Thackeray also attended the meeting, which was held a day before the budget session in the state.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting at Varsha, Rathod said, “I decided to tender in my resignation as minister to CM Uddhav Thackeray because of the way the BJP had become aggressive and was threatening to not allow the Budget session to function.”

The opposition BJP had aggressively demanded Rathod’s resignation, threatening to not allow the Budget session to function if he did not resign.

“Actually any matter should be investigated before reaching any decision. But, the way this issue was being politicised it was hurting my personal life and the society ,and so I decided to stay away from the post. I want there to be a thorough inquiry and for the truth to come out,” added the former minister, in his interaction with reporters.

A Shiv Sena source close to the chief minister had told ThePrint last week that Thackeray was irked by the controversy surrounding Rathod and had indicated to the minister, an MLA from Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district, that he should resign from his post.

Thackeray was also under immense pressure from his MVA allies, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress to act against him.

In the 15 months that the MVA has been in power, Rathod is the first minister to resign.

Also read: How Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP leaders played a part in Maharashtra’s Covid spike

Allegations against Rathod 

The BJP had called for Rathod to be investigated in connection with the death of TikTok star Pooja Chavan in Pune, two weeks ago. Chavan is believed to have fallen from her apartment balcony.

The BJP claims photo and audio clips doing the rounds on social media suggest a link between Rathod and Chavan. After the clips emerged, the minister went incommunicado.

While Chavan’s family has reportedly told police in Pune that she was driven to suicide by her mental illness, a case of accidental death has been registered in this regard.

Rathod, a four-time MLA, resurfaced last week and visited the local Pohradevi shrine in the Washim district that is sacred to the Banjara community, to which Chavan and he belong.

A huge crowd convened at the temple and this apparent show of strength irked the leadership more, as it came just two days after CM Thackeray announced a ban on social, political and religious gatherings amid a rising number of Covid cases, party sources said.

Also read: Uddhav visits, NCP yatra, Patole as Congress chief: Ruling allies eye BJP stronghold Vidarbha

Rathod controversy ammunition for BJP, say analysts

Meanwhile, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis said Rathod’s resignation has come too late and is the result of the pressure that the opposition leaders and social and news media have put on the government.

“In this situation, continuing to stay in the cabinet was wrong. But, somewhere Rathod felt and it could be seen that he has the backing of the leadership. That’s why this resignation did not come earlier. We still don’t know if the resignation has been accepted,” Fadnavis told reporters Sunday.

This is the second controversy involving an MVA minister where the Opposition has brought allegations over morality into the discourse.

Last month, NCP leader and minister Dhananjay Munde came under fire from the BJP after a woman filed a complaint of sexual harassment against him. The controversy, however, died down after members of other parties, including the BJP, raised doubts about the intention of the complainant and the woman took her complaint back.

Political analysts say the BJP will continue to use Rathod’s resignation as ammunition to attack the MVA government, especially on moral grounds.

Political commentator Hemant Desai said, “The Shiv Sena has come out looking very bad from this entire episode. The minister disappeared for 15 days without making any statement on the issue. The CM or any other Shiv Sena minister or spokesperson also did not say anything about the allegations against Rathod in connection with the 22-year-old’s death. The Shiv Sena’s allies in the MVA—Congress and NCP—made their stands clear saying there should be an inquiry and action, but the Shiv Sena did not react for several days after those statements too.”

The Thackeray government has asked the director general of police to inquire into the crowding at the Pohradevi shrine.

Desai said, in such a situation, Rathod’s resignation comes across as buckling under the Opposition’s threat to disrupt the budget session of the state assembly.

According to political analyst Prakash Bal, “The BJP is looking for issues to attack this government by hook or by crook, so they will strongly continue to pursue it. However, this controversy won’t necessarily impact the stability of the government.”

Also read: NCP got 5 times more funds, including from Mumbai BJP chief, after coming to power in 2019


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