Exactly a week after the controversial White Paper on irrigation was tabled in the Maharashtra Cabinet, senior Nationalist Congress Party leader, Ajit Pawar, was again sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister on Friday. Governor K. Sankaranarayanan administered the oath of office to Mr. Pawar in the presence of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
“No one had urged me to resign. I did so of my own accord so that my presence as a Minister would in no way influence the White Paper on the irrigation scam,” said Mr. Pawar, remarking that the Opposition would nitpick anyway, even if the government was doing ‘good work.’
Mr. Pawar is yet to be allotted a portfolio and it is expected that he would get one only after the end of the winter session of the legislature.
His return was a fait accompli following the release of the White Paper that virtually gave the NCP leader a clean chit. Mr. Pawar, who resigned from his post dramatically in late September this year, was re-instated with equal suddenness, despite the government failing to make any significant progress in its inquiry into the scam. He had quit his post following allegations of massive irregularities that detailed his granting project approvals totalling Rs. 20,000 crore during an eight-month period without the mandatory clearance of the governing council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) during his stint as Water Resources Minister between 1999 and 2009.
The White Paper (the handiwork of the Irrigation Department), instead of addressing these issues, was mired in purposeless detail, skirting the corruption plaguing irrigation projects.
The Opposition was vehement in its censure of Mr. Pawar’s comeback after 72 days in the political wilderness.
The BJP called the resignation and the subsequent issue of White Paper as a ‘grand farce from beginning to end’ and ‘a cruel joke on the farmers in the State.’
“If he [Ajit Pawar] has the guts, then he should be ready for a SIT probe. If he is proved innocent, then he should come back into the Cabinet with respect,” said Leader of the Opposition Eknath Khadse, adding it was unfortunate that the Chief Minister had to re-induct Mr. Pawar owing to NCP pressure.
“What court of law has given him [Ajit Pawar] a clean chit… he himself is proclaiming his innocence. It’s a deal cut by the Chief Minister to save his own chair,” said Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut.
The Opposition has warned of a massive rally in protest against the White Paper and Mr. Pawar’s re-induction.