MUMBAI: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and various other state ministers sat on a dharna here on Thursday to protest against the arrest of their cabinet colleague Nawab Malik by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case.
NCP leader Pawar, whose party shares power with the Shiv Sena and Congress in the state as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), was the first to reach the protest site close to Mahatma Gandhi's statue near the state secretariat Mantralaya.
He was later joined by State Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil, Health Minister Rajesh Tope, Water Resources Minister Jayant Patil, Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Minister of State for Tourism Aditi Tatkare (all NCP leaders), Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar, PWD Minister Ashok Chavan, Sports Minister Sunil Kedar, Textiles Minister Aslam Sheikh and MoS for Home Satej Patil (all from Congress).
NCP MP Supriya Sule and state women's commission chairperson Rupali Chakankar were also present.
After the protest began at 10 am, no senior Shiv Sena leader was seen for about an hour.
Later, state Industries Minister Subhash Desai, who belongs to the Uddhav Thackeray-led party, joined the protest.
State Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray and Shiv Sena's chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut are currently in Uttar Pradesh for the Assembly elections campaigning.
Talking to reporters, Thorat claimed that central probe agencies were being being used to silence political opponents.
"This is unfortunate and a black chapter in the country's history," the Congress leader said.
Jayant Patil, who is also the state NCP chief, said the allegations against Malik are "baseless".
Malik will respond to all the allegations of terror links against him in the court, he said.
The BJP's "attempt to overthrow the MVA government" has not been successful yet.
"The action against the serving cabinet minister is part of such a move," he claimed.
Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande, who also joined the protest, claimed that for the past 27 months, the BJP has been trying to destablise the MVA government which has performed well.
Malik (62), the state minority affairs minister and NCP's chief spokesperson, was arrested on Wednesday after being questioned for about five hours at the ED's office in south Mumbai's Ballard Estate area.
He was later produced before special judge R N Rokade, who remanded him in the ED custody till March 3.
The agency said the money laundering probe was linked to the activities of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim and his aides.
Malik was on Wednesday produced in a special PMLA court where the probe agency claimed the NCP leader was "actively" involved in "terror funding".
After a meeting of top leaders of the ruling MVA on Wednesday evening, a senior NCP leader said there is no question of taking the resignation of Malik since he has not committed anything wrong.
A video surfaced on Wednesday purportedly showing Mumbai politician Mohit Kambhoj wielding a sword presented to him during a protest organized to hail the arrest of NCP leader and Maharashtra cabinet minister Nawab Malik by the ED in a money laundering case.
A police official said they were verifying the incident.
After the arrest of Malik, some BJP workers burst crackers outside the residence of Kambhoj at Santa Cruz in western suburbs.
One of the workers gave a sword to Kambhoj which he allegedly raised in the air.
As the video surfaced, a police team reached the spot to look into the matter.
"Our team went to the spot and the verification process was on," said the official.