Amid high-voltage drama, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Friday dropped his plan to go to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office in Mumbai, giving in to the requests of the agency and Mumbai police to maintain law and order.
A day after the ED registered a money laundering case against Pawar and others in connection with the alleged ₹25,000-crore Maharashtra State Cooperative (MSC) Bank scam, Pawar on Wednesday announced his plan to visit the ED office on Friday afternoon. The visit was considered as an indication that he had done no wrong and had nothing to hide and make the ED case a rallying point for his party. Pawar has said he wanted to visit to ensure the investigating agency did not summon him in the middle of the Assembly elections.
But hours before he was to leave his house on Bhulabhai Desai Road, which is a short distance away, the central agency sent him an email that there was no need for him to come, NCP Mumbai president Nawab Malik said. Mumbai police commissioner Sanjay Barve, too, followed up on the ED mail and requested Pawar to stay home. “I have decided not to go to the ED office,” Pawar told reporters outside his house. “I don’t want to create law and order situation in the state… The police commissioner told me that there could be a law and order problem. I have served as a home minister and don’t want common people to be affected. The decision was taken after deliberating with the party leaders,” he said.
NCP leaders had planned a show of strength in support of their leader, despite an appeal by Pawar urging them not to gather and ensure no inconvenience to people. They have asked workers to gather at party headquarters, 100m away from ED office.
The police had prepared for Pawar’s visit and imposed restrictions on gatherings outside the ED’s office at Ballard Pier and other parts of south Mumbai. Hundreds of NCP workers were detained when they were on their way to the party office. However, a group of NCP workers staged a protest against the government. For hours, they raised slogans against the BJP government and the investigating agency.
The ED case pertains to loans provided by the MSC Bank — the apex body for all district central cooperative (DCC) banks in the state — to co-operative sugar factories, spinning mills and other processing units. It is alleged that these loans were given without considering the financial condition of the cooperative units.
Pawar has, however, clarified that he was never the director of any of the banks and questioned the timing of the action ahead of the Assembly polls in the state. On Friday, he slammed the BJP government and said, “The case is a clear example to defame Opposition leaders in front of people before the elections.” Pawar was on a statewide tour to meet the cadre, after the exodus of senior leaders and sitting legislators. Only last week, Pawar has said he has never been in jail for his actions, in a dig at Union home minister Amit Shah, after the latter questioned Pawar’s contribution to address farmers’ distress in Maharashtra.
On Friday, many opposition parties issued statements to back Pawar and run down the ED case as a reflection of what they described as vindictive politics. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Sharad Pawarji is the latest Opposition leader to be targeted by a vindictive government. The timing of this action, a month before elections in Maharashtra, reeks of political opportunism.”
State Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant reached the NCP office and participated in the protest. Even the Shiv Sena, ruling ally of the BJP, chose to support Pawar on the issue. “I am looking at this development from the point of view of the elections. Those who know Pawar and understand state politics will say that there was no reason to make the case political. Pawar is a top leader in Maharashtra and in the country. He has a reputation,” said Sena leader Sanjay Raut.
Pawar thanked Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sanjay Raut and NCP cadre for coming out in his support before leaving for Pune, where he will visit the areas affected with cloudburst.
The ruling BJP has refuted that it was a political move. CM Devendra Fadnavis said the case was first registered by the police on the high court’s directive. The ED, which comes under the Centre, had to come into the picture under the rules for financial frauds involving ₹100 crore or more, he said.
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