The new BJP government in Maharashtra has cleared the trust vote with help from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Will it now be in a position to take stern action against those involved in the mammoth 70,000 crore scam, especially when NCP is accused of having a major role in the scam?

One of the several incomplete lift Irrigation schemes in Vidarbha, Maharashtra (Courtesy: Wikipedia) One of the several incomplete lift Irrigation schemes in Vidarbha, Maharashtra (Courtesy: Wikipedia) 

The power equations in the Maharashtra state Assembly have become clear after the trust vote on November 12. The speaker in the Assembly, Haribhau Bagde, cleared the trust vote on the basis of voice vote though the Shiv Sena vociferously demanded a division of votes; and with Sena leader Eknath Shinde being declared opposition leader, it is clear that the Devendra Fadnavis-headed BJP government has made it through the trust vote with NCP support. For its remaining tenure, the BJP government’s existence will depend on this same support.

BJP had emerged as the single largest party in the recent Assembly elections by winning 121 seats – 23 short of an absolute majority. Hectic negotiations with both the Sena and NCP failed to yield results as both insisted on a larger share of ministries than BJP was willing to cede. Till the morning of November 12 Sena had kept its cards close to its chest and it was not clear whether it would support the BJP government. It was also not clear if BJP would take NCP’s support if Sena did choose to support it, since it had earlier viciously attacked the Sharad-Pawar led party with charges of corruption, prominently the irrigation scam.

Both sides had their jobs cut out for them. BJP could not afford to let its hard earned near-victory pass by, and NCP, of course, has too many bigwigs to defend against too many scams.


Now that the picture is clear, there is a big question mark on the future of the investigation into the infamous irrigation scam. The new chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ voice was one of the loudest against the irrigation scam when he was in the Opposition in the previous government. Will Fadnavis now take the investigation – which is expected to hit NCP, particularly its former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and Water Resources minister Sunil Tatkare, hard – to its logical end? Or would he be forced to soft-foot the issue just to keep his government from falling?

Of course there are other issues in the irrigation scam. BJP stalwarts like Nitin Gadkari and Chainsukh Sancheti have also been implicated in the scam. In the 13 days since his government was formed, Fadnavis’ actions have been ambiguous towards both the NCP and the issue of irrigation. On the one hand, he sent a powerful message to the irrigation lobby by appointing IAS officer Malini Shankar as the Water Resources Department (WRD) head, ending the tradition of appointing department officials to that crucial post. Till date, WRD was one of just two departments in the state which were headed by non-IAS officers. Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had failed several times to replace the WRD head with an IAS officer due to stiff opposition from the entire department. H T Mendhegiri, who had been sidelined after his forthright report on the violations committed in the planning and execution of irrigation projects, has now been appointed head of the Command Area Development Authority (CADA), another crucial appointment.

Is the chief minister going soft on UPA?

But at the same time the chief minister has not shown keenness in bringing into light the misdeeds of the previous government. After Sudhir Mungantiwar, the new finance minister, proposed a white paper on the state’s dismal financial performance in the past 15 years of UPA rule, the CM insisted that it be softened to a mere status report.

On the positive side, the government has taken steps to curb corruption in other areas involving NCP. The most prominent move in this regard is the dismissal of 170-odd Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), including the Mumbai APMC, by minister for cooperatives Chandrakant Patil on November 10. Most of these APMCs had been granted extensions despite allegations of irregularities against them, and they were NCP dominated. This move is being seen as a serious blow to NCP because this party was known to have the strongest stranglehold over APMCs.

So what is the likely fate of the one of the biggest scams in the history of the state? It is impossible to tell as of now. Fadnavis has his job cut out for him, walking a tight-rope between retaining NCP support and keeping the feisty Pawar family from calling too many shots. The people of Maharashtra can just hope Fadnavis manages the task effectively.