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Maharashtra Minister linked to woman’s death meets CM

Maharashtra Forest Minister and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Rathod, under fire from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for his alleged connection with the death of a 23-year-old woman from the nomadic banjara community in Pune, attended the State cabinet meeting on Wednesday in Mumbai.

Later in the evening intense speculation after Mr. Rathod met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray at his official residence Varsha. He however, refused to speak with reporters on his way out.

Sources said Mr. Rathod was closeted in an hour-long meeting with Mr. Thackeray and other Sena ministers. Senior Nationalist Congress Party leader and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Energy Minister Dr. Nitin Raut (Congress) are reported to have joined in later.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Minority Development, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Minister Nawab Malik said, “He [Mr. Rathod] was present at the meeting. He appeared after many days. But there was no discussion on his resignation in connection with the Pune case as the Cabinet deliberated over Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, I have no knowledge if Mr. Pawar is displeased over this matter,” Mr. Malik said.

Meanwhile, a show of strength on Tuesday by Mr. Rathod at the Poharadevi shrine in Washim district in the Vidarbha region — attended by thousands of members of the banjara community at a time when the State is reeling under a renewed COVID-19 wave — has led to a fresh bout of criticism from the Opposition and senior Maha Vikas Aghadi leaders.

While Senior Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat said the large gathering at Pohradevi was “unfortunate”, Mr. Rathod’s detractors said that the Minister was fostering the spread of virus with his irresponsible act.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar too is reportedly displeased over Mr. Rathod’s actions for ‘hurting’ the image of the government. Mr. Malik said the Chief Minister had ordered an inquiry into the gathering.

“How did such a large crowd gather in spite of the Chief Minister’s exhortations to desist from gatherings? Did a politician instigate this crowd? Those responsible will be sternly dealt with once the report of this investigation is presented before the Chief Minister,” Mr. Malik said.

The BJP has categorically held Mr. Rathod responsible for the girl’s suicide, alleging that it was none other than the Minister whose voice had apparently featured in a series of audio clips allegedly linked to the case.

BJP leader Chitra Wagh has cast aspersions on the probe conducted by the Pune Police and has demanded to know how Mr. Rathod could appear in a Cabinet meeting and why a case had not been officially lodged against him 15 days after the girl’s death.

The deceased, who hailed from Parli in Beed district, belonged to the nomadic banjara community and had come to pursue her studies in Pune.

She is suspected to have died after jumping from the first floor of a building in the early hours of February 7.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 6:32:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/maharashtra-minister-linked-to-womans-death-meets-cm/article33927119.ece

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