Mumbai, June 4 (IANS) In a major loss of face for the ruling BJP in Maharashtra, Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse, the de facto No.2 in the state government, quit on Saturday after getting embroiled in multiple controversies, including graft allegations in a questionable land deal and alleged links with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.
Khadse, 63, who held nearly a dozen major portfolios in the state government, met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and put in his papers.
BJP state president Raosaheb Danve told the media that Khadse has quit on "moral grounds" but the party stood solidly behind him.
Danve lauded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from north Maharashtra for building up the party in the state for the past four decades.
On his part, Khadse defended himself saying he had "committed no wrong" nor "misused his official position". He said he was a victim of "trial by the media" in the past few weeks.
"I have done nothing wrong...when the allegations were made against me, I asked them (those levelling the charges) to provide evidence, which they did not give. I request the chief minister to conduct a thorough probe into the allegations and those making them," Khadse said.
Hitting out at his detractors within and outside the party, Khadse said this was "an attack on the BJP".
The fast-paced developments happened a day after Fadnavis met BJP president Amit Shah in New Delhi and submitted a detailed report on the issues confronting Khadse.
Fadnavis later followed it up with a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and apprised him of the row that was denting the BJP's "clean image" in the state.
Khadse had been under fire for the past few weeks from the ruling alliance partner Shiv Sena, as also the opposition Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, the Aam Aadmi Party and activists for various alleged acts of commission and omission.
Among the major accusations hurled at Khadse was allotting a prime industrial plot in Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) complex in Pune at a throwaway price and an allegation by an "ethical hacker" that his name figured on the regular call lists of absconding mafia don Dawood Ibrahim from his Karachi home.
The other charges against the minister related to an aide, Gajanan Patil, demanding a bribe of Rs 30 crore in connection with a land proposal file in Kalyan, Thane.
Former AAP activist Anjali Damania's allegations linked him to the multi-crore rupee irrigation scam. The latest were graft charges levelled by a fishermen's society.
Once a claimant to the chief minister's post, Khadse was assigned the departments of revenue, minorities development and wakf, state excise, relief and rehabilitation, earthquake rehabilitation, agriculture and horticulture, animal husbandry, dairy development and fisheries.
The opposition Congress leaders welcomed the resignation and demanded that other scam-tainted ministers should also be sacked.
"Khase should be arrested immediately and booked," Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam said.
State Congress general secretary Sanjay Dutt termed the resignation as "a cover-up drama by Fadnavis" and demanded a probe by a high court judge into the allegations against Khadse.
"If Fadnavis is really sincere on acting against corruption and upholding propriety, he should similarly sack his other corrupt ministers," Dutt said.
Senior Congress leader and newly-elected legislator Narayan Rane said the chief minister was playing games and "eliminating all backward classes leaders in the party and doing grave injustice to them".
"First the BJP ruined Khadse's image and after so many days of delay, they forced him to resign. Then, why did the state BJP chief Danve give him a clean chit only yesterday? Khadse is a victim of the internal strife and conspiracy between BJP-Shiv Sena. He should have immediately resigned after the charges were levelled against him."
Ridiculing Khadse's claims, opposition NCP senior leader Ajit Pawar said if the resignation was on "moral grounds", why did he delay it for so long.
Another NCP senior leader Jitendra Awhad said it was shameful that a minister with "connections to Dawood Ibrahim" was in the cabinet and the resignation was natural. He demanded a probe into the allegations.