A day after the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) unprecedented arrest of serving Cabinet minister Nawab Malik, the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi and opposition BJP in Maharashtra protested against each other across the state on Thursday.
Leaders of the ruling Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress alliance staged a sit-in near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside the Mantralaya here and all over Maharashtra to protest against Malik’s arrest and the manner in which the Centre is ‘unleashing’ central probe agencies to harass and topple non-BJP governments in the country.
The BJP leaders, on the other hand, demonstrated in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad and other cities, alleging that Malik has “mafia connections” and he must either resign from the Cabinet or be sacked immediately.
The MVA leaders and activists, along with Malik’s daughter, Nilofer Malik, raised slogans slamming the Centre, flaying the ‘political vendetta’ through the misuse of central probe agencies and harassing leaders to break or bend them to grab power at any cost.
“ED Murdabad”, “Modi Government Hai, Hai, Modi Government Chor Hai”, “Nawab Malik Zindabad” rent the air in Mumbai and other cities as MVA leaders carried banners, placards and posters, vowing “never to bow before the ‘tanashahi’ of Delhi”.
State Congress President Nana Patole and Legislative Party leader Balasaheb Thorat said the BJP has no moral right to seek the resignation of Malik, and instead they should demand the sacking of the Union minister whose son crushed farmers under his vehicle in Uttar Pradesh.
They pointed out that ‘vindictive action’ has been taken against Malik in a two-decade-old case, trying to link it with the mafia or the terror attacks 30 years ago.
Minister Ashok Chavan pointed out that politics had stooped to a new low with a sitting minister being arrested merely on the basis of suspicions, which is not only unwarranted, bust poses a serious threat to democracy.
Those present included Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, ministers like Subhash Desai (Shiv Sena), Jayant Patil, Dilip Walsepatil, Chhagan Bhujbal, Hasan Mushrif, Dhananjay Munde, Jitendra Awhad, Rajesh Tope, Rajendra Shingane, Balasaheb Patil (NCP), Balasaheb Thorat, Ashok Chavan, Vijay Vadettiwar, Sunil Kedar, and Aslam Sheikh (Congress).
Ministers of State Satej alias Bunty Patil, K.C. Padvi, Dattatraya Bharne, Prajakt Tanpure, Aditi Tatkare and Sanjay Bansode also joined the protests.
They were joined by MP Supriya Sule, Maharashtra State Commission for Women Chairperson Rupali Chakankar, ex-minister Naseem Khan, Yuvraj Mohite, ex-MPs Bhalchandra Mungekar and Hussain Dalwai, Lokbharati MLA Kapil Patil, Mumbai Congress President Bhai Jagtap, General Secretary Sachin Sawant, and spokesperson Raju Waghmare.
Also protesting were scores of MPs, MLAs, MLCs and other office-bearers of all the three parties from across the state, youth, women and frontline organisations and supporters.
Meanwhile, the BJP leaders organised noisy demonstrations at railway stations, bus stations and other public places demanding the resignation of Malik, accusing him of “financing terror operations” through absconding mafia don Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar and his family.
The Maharashtra Police maintained tight security at all the government and opposition protest venues, as the MVA grappled with its biggest political crisis after it won the 2019 Assembly elections, and the BJP ogled at its major political opportunity in the past 27 months since the latter lost power.
In a shocking pre-dawn operation on Wednesday, the ED picked up Malik from his home and took him to the agency’s office around 7.30 am.
There, they handed him the probe summons, and after eight hours of interrogation, arrested him on charges of money-laundering arising out of a tainted land deal nearly two decades ago, which was highlighted by the Leader of Opposition, Devendra Fadnavis, last November.
After a hearing lasting nearly three hours, a special PMLA court late on Wednesday shunted Malik to eight-day ED custody till March 3.