MUMBAI: Facing heat over a string of corruption charges including irregularities in a land deal, Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse today resigned, the first casualty in BJP after Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine took over the party pledging zero-tolerance to corruption.
With his options running out and the central leadership sending a clear and stern message to him, the 64-year-old veteran from north Maharashtra drove to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis's official residence here this morning and offered his resignation.
The fate of Khadse was sealed two days back after Fadnavis briefed Modi and Shah in Delhi over the allegations against him, which were not only leveraged by Congress, NCP and AAP to embarrass the first BJP-led government in the state but even made ally Shiv Sena to come out seeking his ouster.
Considered "number two" in the Cabinet handling vital portfolios of Revenue and Agriculture, Khadse has been facing heat over a series of allegations including irregularities in a land deal in Pune and getting calls allegedly from fugitive Dawood Ibrahim's residence in Karachi on his mobile phone besides the alleged bribe sought by a personal aide.
He is in a spot over the purchase of a three-acre Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) land in Pune allegedly at a low price of around Rs 3.75 crore from its original owner in the name of his wife and son-in-law. The market value of the land is reportedly Rs 40 crore. Rubbishing the allegations, Khadse said he has been a victim of an "unprecedented media trial."
Addressing a press meet with the state party chief Raosaheb Danve after his meeting with Chief Minister, Khadse, seen as the OBC face of the party with a massive following in northern districts, said, "For the last 40 years, I have been in politics and the party but had not experienced a media trial like this."
"There has been an unprecedented media trial against me," he said, adding, "I have demanded Fadnavis that an inquiry be ordered into the allegations." Stating Khadse was forced to quit as charges against him were "serious", Congress demanded a high level investigation into the matter.
"Only resignation will not do. We want a high level judicial inquiry into the scams involving Khadse. We don't trust this government, which may sabotage the investigation," Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan told PTI.
Former AAP leader Anjali Damania, who was on a hunger strike demanding Khadse's resignation for the last three days, said this was the initial victory for her after exposing Khadse's wrongdoings. AAP national spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon said, "We are relieved that finally, after he was totally exposed in past few weeks, BJP removed Khadse from office."