The long hand of ED and the rise of Maha’s ED (Eknath-Devendra)

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At the special session of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on July 3-4, during the voting the Opposition benches of the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress reverberated with catcalls of ‘ED’, ‘ED’ to at least one MLA in the House.

The jeering and taunts were directed at the Shiv Sena MLAs group which had revolted on June 20, leading to the collapse of the 3-party 31-month-old MVA alliance — headed by ex-Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray — on June 29.

Ten days later on June 30, a new Bharatiya Janata Party-supported government headed by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was sworn-in, making it one of the swiftest state political coups in recent decades, and the first of its kind in Maharashtra.

Sensing the ‘sour mood’ of the Opposition, the Deputy CM later ‘concurred’ with them, in a lighter vein stating that now, indeed – an ‘E’-‘D’ government – comprising ‘E’knath Shinde and ‘D’evendra Fadnavis was in power here.

A harbinger of things to come in the future…?, as many legislators on both sides were left wondering… with central investigation agencies like the Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation, Narcotics Control Bureau, et al — once invisible lurking ghosts, but now common household names and the butt of many a joke and memes.

Back in September 2019, the ED had dropped its own IED by issuing a statement naming – of all persons, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar in an alleged money-laundering scam cooked up in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank Ltd.

Unfazed, Pawar took what he termed ‘the ED’s love-message’ in his stride, and ‘self-summoned’ himself, dressing up to report suo-moto at the ED office, and perhaps, give the investigators a sharp ‘love-bite’, too!

Aware of a possible law-and-order situation as thousands of NCP workers prepared to join Pawar’s ‘ED yatra’, the then BJP-led government of CM Fadnavis panicked.

He immediately deputed the then Police Commissioner to meet and cajole the irked Pawar to abandon his plans – and since that ‘masterstroke’, the 81-year-old Maratha has not heard from the ED, but recently, the IT department has sent him a notice.

After the BJP-led NDA government took over at the Centre, the non-BJP ruled states, including Maharashtra post-Nevember 2019, are feeling the heat as many of their prominent leaders are being fried on the griddle of one or multiple central agencies.

In fact, Maharashtra had become a favourite hunting ground of the central snoops during the MVA government and the three alliance partners screamed from the rooftops at how the BJP has let loose the ED, IT, CBI, NCB to terrorise and silence them.

However, concealing a smile on a straight face, the BJP leaders airily dismissed all allegations and the central agencies remain freely on the prowl.

The past few years have seen over a dozen Sena-NCP-Congress leaders under microscopic scrutiny, playing havoc with the politicians, their political careers and parties, and lately, even an entire state government.

The targets so far: ex-CM Thackeray’s brother-in-law Shridhar M. Patankar, close associates of son and ex-Minister Aditya Thackeray, while ex-Minister Anil Parab was closeted inside the ED office and outside, his government was crumbling in late-June, Sena MPs Sanjay Raut and Bhavana Gawali – the latter, sacked as the party’s Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha, several legislators like Pratap Sarnaik, MLA Yamini Jadhav’s husband and BMC leader Yashwant Jadhav, Arjun Khotkar, and many more.

In the NCP, those in focus were the close relatives of ex-Deputy CM (new Leader of Opposition) Ajit Pawar, four former ministers — Anil Deshmukh, Nawab Malik (both arrested), Prajakt Tanpure and Eknath Khadse — the last one faced the ED ire after he switched over from the BJP to the NCP and several more coming onto the radar.

Some Congress leaders have complaints against them though the agencies have not yet hounded them. Ex-Congress minister Harshvardhan Patil said on record that after joining the BJP, “there are no enquiries” and he “enjoys sound sleep !”

Post-MVA collapse, there were political murmurs hinting that a couple of top rebels and more than two dozen MLAs who flocked together were reportedly under the lens of one or more agencies.

Some bitter MLAs have also pointed fingers at the MVA leaders for “failure to protect them” from the ceaseless assault of the investigation agencies and felt it ‘safer’ to ally with the BJP. Pawar once complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the harassment.

Probably a telling indicator of the dreadful reputation of the probe organisations, which are now perceived as the most effective ‘ammunition’ against the Opposition.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

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