In a dramatic turn of events, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar resigned on Tuesday, casting a shadow over the future of the ruling Congress-NCP coalition.
Only the top NCP leaders were informed of his decision, Mr. Pawar told journalists at Mantralaya (Secretariat). He sent in his resignation to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Later in the evening, the Congress received a fresh jolt, with all 15 NCP Ministers and five Ministers of State submitting their resignations to the party’s State president, Madhukar Pichad, after a meeting at Mr. Pawar’s residence, ‘Devgiri,’ at Malabar Hill.
“The move was meant to express solidarity with Ajitdada and send out a message of unity within the party. I will discuss the issue with our leader Sharad Pawar,” Mr. Pichad told The Hindu. The NCP Legislature Party would meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
Mr. Ajit Pawar also quit as Minister for Finance and Planning and Power. But he would remain leader of the NCP Legislature Party.
His resignation came after sections of the media reported allegations of irregularities in his grant of 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) when he was Water Resources Minister between 1999 and 2009.
He argued that he had powers to clear projects without the approval of the governing council. The cost of the projects, pending for the past 20 years, went above the estimate because of the increase in raw material costs. Many a time, projects had to be prioritised to do justice to the drought-hit areas, holding up several others.
“The responsibility for this decision [to resign] is mine alone and no one is to blame for it. I have abdicated my ministerial posts and would henceforth continue as a legislator. I have sounded out my seniors on this matter [of his resignation],” he said.
Strongly denying allegations of misdemeanour in clearing the projects, he said he was ready to face a CBI probe. “I do not want to be there to face allegations that I am influencing the White Paper [on irrigation]… I am clean and will go back to the people to seek a fresh mandate.”
Denying that he was pressured to resign, he said, “Even when people are doing good work, there are efforts to create an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt…If I continued amid these allegation, the people of Maharashtra would accuse me of clinging on to my post.”
Asked why other senior NCP leaders such as PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare have not resigned, he said: “Each one has a different way of dealing with a particular situation.”
The much-awaited White Paper should be brought out as fast as possible to clear any doubt in the minds of people. It should be out by the start of the winter session of the legislature.
Mr. Ajit Pawar has recommended to the Chief Minister that the Finance and Planning portfolio be given to Jayant Patil and the Power Ministry to Rajesh Tope.