If lavish weddings gave Pawar sleepless nights, why did he choose to ignore scams in the State?

In February this year, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar said anyone who watched the extravagant marriages of the son and daughter of Minister of State Bhaskar Jadhav at Chiplun would get sleepless nights.

That multi-crore Bollywood style big fat Indian wedding rained the party chief’s ire on Mr. Jadhav, who held the Urban Development portfolio till Monday night. Mr. Jadhav may have sleepless nights now as his place in the Cabinet has been taken by Uday Samant, MLA from Ratnagiri, also from the Konkan region. However, NCP sources said that lavish display of money was not the reason for his axing from the Cabinet. He may be resurrected and given responsibility in the party organisation.

With the party’s State president Madhukar Pichad now made Minister for Tribal development, the issue of new party chief will be decided on June 15.

After asking all the 20 NCP Ministers from the Maharashtra Cabinet to resign last week, Mr. Pawar has weeded out six of them and selected new Ministers. Fourteen members of the old Cabinet have been retained. Notable among those whose “resignations were accepted” as the party said, are Mr. Jadhav, Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar, Laxman Dhobale, and Gulabrao Deokar from Jalgaon, who was arrested in a corruption case last year. Mr. Deokar got a reprieve from the Supreme Court but that may not last for long.

Mr. Bhaskar Jadhav later confessed to the media that it was a friend of his, a dam contractor from Karad with contracts in the Koyna project, who paid for some of the celebrations. Mr. Pawar was “visibly upset.” “Opulence in a time of drought,” or so he thundered, according to reports. A lot of people were reminded of the large crowds who thronged his daughter’s wedding in Baramati. But it wasn’t lavish, he said, the guests had to be content with a few pedas.

If lavish weddings, in this case funded by dam contractors, give the NCP president sleepless nights, what about other forms of corruption? For instance, his nephew Ajit Pawar headed the Irrigation department for a decade from 1999 and there was hardly any increase in the State’s irrigation coverage. But the number of contractors who made it big is there for everyone to see — some have even been elected to the Legislative Council. Six cases are pending in the High Court relating to irrigation scams.

NCP Minister for Public Works Department Chhagan Bhujbal managed to put aside allegations of corruption in the Maharashtra Sadan construction and got it inaugurated by the President in New Delhi recently. The State government did give consent to a probe by the Anti Corruption Bureau into the scam and the Economic Offences Wing is examining charges against NCP Minister Sunil Tatkare, who heads Water Resources, after a High Court order. The State Cabinet recently refused permission to prosecute another NCP Minister Vijaykumar Gavit for corruption saying these were mere allegations.

Tuesday’s reshuffle did not touch any of the Ministers facing serious allegations or probes. In the name of inducting fresh faces and young blood — Dilip Sopal, an independent MLA from Barshi in Solapur, or Mr. Pichad are not exactly young — the NCP leadership has gone in for changes without upsetting the regional representation of each of the Ministers thrown out. So if Minister of State Prakash Solanke is out, he has been replaced by Suresh Dhas, also from Beed district. Dhas, a former BJP MLA like Solanke, was instrumental in swinging Beed district from the BJP to the NCP in the 2009 Assembly election.

When Mr. Pawar asked for resignations from all his Ministers, no one really expected a revolution in the Cabinet and somewhere there was a feeling that this would be a mere exercise — full of sound and fury signifying nothing. The outgoing Ministers have not really distinguished themselves in any way, but neither have the rest of their party colleagues who have been retained. If this is the change that will heap glory on the NCP in the polls next year by giving the party a new face and a dose of young blood,  supporters of Mr. Pawar must be praying he has another solid trick up his sleeve.