A brazen act

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar’s return to the Maharashtra cabinet as deputy chief minister, just over two months after his resignation, shows how farcical political conduct can be.

Pawar, who is NCP honcho Sharad Pawar’s nephew, had resigned in the face of serious charges of corruption in the award of irrigation projects in the state. He had claimed that he did not want to be part of the government when the charges were being investigated, so that the investigation would be free and fair. A mockery of an investigation was conducted and a white paper was brought out by the government which was actually an exercise in whitewashing. Pawar had said that he would return to the cabinet only after he was cleared of the charges. But he has not been. Even the legality of his re-induction has been questioned.

Pawar was in charge of the state’s water resources department for 10 years from 1999 and the charge was that thousands of crores worth of irrigation contracts were awarded to favoured contractors at inflated costs. The most recent charge was that project approvals amounting to Rs 20,000 crore were granted during an eight-month period in 2009 without even the necessary clearances. There is evidence to show that every inflated tender was personally cleared by the minister. In spite of the huge amounts of money spent there was only a 0.1 per cent in irrigation in the state during 10 years. The white paper does not address these charges but says that there was cost overrun due to various reasons. It is clear that it was a made-to-order report designed to push the issues under the carpet and pave the way for Ajit Pawar’s return for obvious political reasons.

There are court cases relating to the corruption charges. While the demand for a Special investigation Team (SIT) inquiry, backed up by evidence, is pending it was immoral on the part of the Congress and the NCP leadership to allow Ajit Pawar back into the ministry. Both parties are in a coalition government in the state and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was obviously under pressure. In public perception Ajit Pawar is still tainted. An unconvincing exoneration would only confirm the charges and make people more cynical about the ways of politics. The whole drama of resignation and re-induction shows politicians are in power on their terms and do not care for accountable governance and fair practices.

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