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20K-page chargesheet in Maharashtra Sadan scam puts NCP in the dock

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:48 IST

The scam

  • 20,000 page chargesheet filed by the ACB in the Maharashtra Sadan scam
  • Bhujbal\'s son Pankaj, nephew Sameer and 13 others including government officials and contractors named

NCP feeling the heat

  • NCP is reeling under two scams - Maharashtra Sadan and irrigation
  • No leader and spokesperson has expressed solidarity with the Bhujbal, the veteran party leader

More in the story

  • All regional parties in India face leadership crisis and end up being a family controlled venture
  • Many NCP leaders other than Bhujbal facing the heat
  • Is there a way out for the NCP?

The alleged multi crore scam in construction of Maharashtra Sadan at New Delhi seems to be haunting senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal and his family. While his nephew and former member of Parliament, Sameer Bhujbal is in the custody of Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has filed a chargesheet in the financial irregularities in construction of Maharashtra Sadan, New Delhi. The chargesheet names Chhagan Bhujbal and 15 others, including his son Pankaj.

Chhagan Bhujbal claimed innocence and pleaded that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and other investigating agencies to not to resort to coercive action against his family. After he returned from the United States a fortnight ago, Chhagan Bhujbal had termed ED's action to arrest his nephew Sameer as a drastic step, despite full cooperation. However, the chargesheet by the ACB against him, has come as a major boost to ED in furtherance of investigation against the leader in the money laundering case.

With the chargesheet having been filed by the ACB, the elder cousin ED will soon come calling. This is an indication that the worries of Bhujbal family are far from over. Though the chargesheet has been filed against Chhagan Bhujbal, it has also rung the bells for other NCP leaders such as Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, who are facing inquiry in alleged multi-crore irrigation scam in the state, that took place over 15 years of the Congress NCP rule in Maharashtra.

While interacting with the media a fortnight ago, Chhagan Bhujbal had claimed that all the decisions about the Maharashtra Sadan were taken collectively by the Cabinet subcommittee. The entire cabinet was responsible for the decision. The chargesheet filed by CB has accused Bhujbal of cheating, criminal conspiracy and gross misuse of power as Public Works Department (PWD) Minister of Maharashtra.

The chargesheet

  • The chargesheet filed is around 20,000 odd pages

  • It names Bhujbal's son Pankaj, nephew Sameer and 13 others inlcuding government officials and contractors
  • Bhujbal got kickbacks in the deal

  • The ACB has attached documents to prove these accusations

  • Bhujbal is accused of awarding tenders to a firm KS Chamankar and Co to construct Maharashtra Sadan, without inviting tenders
  • The ED will now tighten the noose around Bhujbal post the filing of this chargesheet

  • The ED was waiting for the chargesheet to get details on Bhujbal's role in the scam

  • Bhujbal will be called in to record his statement in cases registered against Sameer and Pankaj Bhujbal under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA)
  • The agency, that investigates cases under PMLA and FERA violations exclusively, will now question Chhagan Bhujbal.

With the noose tightening on the Bhujbals, and a possible arrest coming up, the NCP is staring at a major disaster. When legal action and possible arrest of the Bhujbals and ACB closing in on close aides of Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare in irrigation scam, the NCP is likely to face a leadership crisis in near future.

Maharashtra Sadan and irrigation scams have got the NCP worried. Prakash Akolkar feels there is a leadership crisis

NCP's future at stake?

The NCP leaders have declined to comment on the issue ever since the news of the ACB chargesheet broke out in the media. Unlike, earlier, when NCP chief Sharad Pawar came out to defend Bhujbal, this time, no leader and spokesperson has expressed solidarity with the veteran party leader, who once was the blue-eyed-boy of Sharad Pawar. Interestingly, the cordial relationship between Sharad Pawar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, did not come to the rescue of Bhujbal. On one hand, the ACB is inching closer to Bhujbal, opening avenues for ED also, to come in, on the other, the agency is zeroing in on Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare.

In view of the recent developments, it is most likely that the ACB will soon come calling at the doors of Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare. Though, the agency has already recorded statements of Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare in connection with the irrigation scam in October last year, no case has been registered against them as yet.

However, the fact that the Nagpur unit of ACB has booked owners of FA Construction, the close aides of Ajit Pawar and retired officers of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), the day is not far away that Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare would find themselves in serious trouble.

Veteran journalist and political thinker Prakash Akolkar feels that the NCP has already started feeling leadership crisis. However, the party will not disintegrate or face any such fate in immediate future even though the second line leaders are facing serious legal charges.

"The trio - Bhujbal, Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare - can cry political vendetta initially if they faced arrests in the cases. Their mettle will be tested at the time when the party will go for elections in future. I think, despite having cordial relationship with Sharad Pawar, Modi will not intervene in the matter as it was BJP's election promise to take the cases of corruption to logical end. To drive the point home, CM Devendra Fadnavis will not leave any stone unturned," Akolkar said.

He went on to say that all regional parties in India face leadership crisis and end up being a family controlled venture. "This is the major blow to the party. We hoped that the friendship between Sharad Pawar and PM Modi will sail the party through the rough weather. But it is not happening. If Chhagan Bhujbal and Ajit Pawar are arrested, it will jeopardise the future of the party," said a senior NCP leader who did not wish to be named.

The leader agreed that Chhagan Bhujbal had been one of the key leaders of NCP who, on many occasions, have been proved to be saviour for the party. "However, it is also true that, he had always been at the centre of controversies; let it be forged stamp paper Telgi scam or Maharashtra Sadan scam. Party will face severe problems if these leaders are penalised in the cases pending against them," the leader said.

First published: 26 February 2016, 11:05 IST