CO-OP BANK SCAM: Sharad Pawar, nephew Ajit and bank CEO in ED net; case of loot of over Rs 24,000cr over years

NEW DELHI: It might or might not be by design, but a host of Opposition politicians generally seen as corrupt are being zeroed in. Central investigating agencies and other entities are doing preliminary investigations into their funds transactions and seeing a lot of red around. The latest political heavyweights against whom the Enforcement Directorate has begun proceedings are Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and former Union minister Sharad Pawar and his nephew and ex-minister Ajit Pawar. 

The two also called a lot of shots in the cooperative movements in western Maharashtra—which are also money-minting machines for politicians at the grave risk of hurting the farmers who formed the bulk of their memberships. Times, though, are changing. While Pawar was also a former Maharashtra chief minister, Ajit Pawar was a powerful minister in Maharashtra under a Congress-NCP dispensation. 

The investigations centre around the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank, in which Sharad Pawar and his nephew had major stakes. Cases are also framed against the chairman, MD and office-bearers of the bank, who were close to the Pawars. The fraud being investigated is of the order of Rs 25,000crore under provisions of the anti-money-laundering act, which was given teeth to during the first term of the Modi government.

ED investigations followed court order to fix the responsibility for the big scam that also involves several sugar factories in the Pune-Baramati belt, where the Pawars kept calling the shots for the past four decades.

Clearly, there is some ruffling of feathers in Delhi and beyond these days. If the first Modi term was without much fuss about nailing the corrupt, the second term is seeing noticeable activity. And, it is not just Palaniappa Chidambaram – who maintained a larger-than-life image as a high-profile Congress politician and powerful Union minister – who is being cornered. Chidambaram is now spending his time in the abode of charge-sheeted criminals in Delhi’s somewhat notorious Tihar Jail.

They ran the bank allegedly as a personal property. Cases are about large-scale money laundering and sale of sugar factories at throwaway prices with the aim of filling many pockets.

CBI and Enforcement Directorate investigations led to an assessment that Chidambaram and his son were on a money minting exercise through the two UPA periods, buying up property in India and abroad including sporting clubs. Charge sheet will be filed in court after the ongoing investigations are complete, and a trial would follow. Chidambaram says these are all just rubbish. While ED probe followed court directives, the timing of the present action has major political overtones. Maharashtra is set for assembly polls on October 21, and the BJP is confident of returning to power with or without help from the Shiv Sena. 

The BJP had swept the Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra earlier this year, in a mark of massive support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Maharashtra is among the states with strong nationalist feelings ever since the time of the Freedom movement. The Balakot air strikes ordered by PM Modi added to the ground-level support for the PM and by extension the BJP. NCP is set to face the assembly polls in alliance with the Congress yet again, this time.

The Sharad Pawar clan’s acquired assets are in trillions, concentrated mostly in Pune-Baramati region and beyond. Some top NCP politicians including those who were part of the UPA governments at the Centre have also minted money to filthy high levels in the past two decades and are known as being among the main symbols of corruption in the recent years, during and before the UPA periods. PM Modi, who came to power in 2014 hardly acted against several vicious creatures in politics and bureaucracy who turned India into a highly corrupt nation.

Meanwhile, there is high action elsewhere too. In Andhra Pradesh, former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is being cornered by new chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy. Naidu’s luxurious bungalow built in fancy style on the banks of River Krishna is ordered to be demolished – within weeks after another huge structure erected by Naidu in the nearabouts for a people’s daily durbar was razed to the ground by a string of JCB machines. 

This, immediately after the assembly polls which dumped Naidu and his Telugu Desam party and brought to power Jaganmohan Reddy, whose father YS Rajasekhar Rao was a former chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh. YSR, who died in a helicopter crash while he was CM, was also known to be hugely corrupt, leaving huge wealth for his family to carry forward in luxurious ways.
Two top Kerala politicians of the Congress shade, former chief minister Oommen Chandy and present Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala are also set to face a CBI probe into another huge corruption complaint in the state-owned Travancore Titanium. The case related to the import of equipment for a pollution treatment plant for the company, which was channeling its industrial effluent into the Arabian Sea. 

The agreement for import of equipment was signed by a UDF government headed by Oommen Chandy, and it involved a fund transaction of over Rs 250crore; a part of which allegedly went into the pockets of the Congress politicians as also some CPIM=CITU leaders who were in the company’s board of directors. While the state cabinet led by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan decided to hand over the probe to the CBI from the state police, which was dragging the case for years, he is under pressure to keep the files pending and thwart a CBI investigation. The BJP which was initially enthused is now blaming the CM for his go-slow attempt.

All these apart, the Sharada chit fund scam in Kolkatta, in which several ruling TMC politicians are involved and even chief minister Mamata Banerjee might get stuck, is likely to take a serious turn soon. A top police officer who was allegedly used by Banerjee to hush up matters is now sought to be in CBI custody, to face major grilling. A worried Mamata Banerjee, who had sought in the past to be the fulcrum around which anti-BJP and anti-Modi forces would be rallied in the country, made a visit to New Delhi and made an unsuccessful attempt to cheer up Modi. Modi smiled through the meeting, but gave no hint he would save her.

However, those who are siding with the BJP and Modi seem safe, for now at least. The corrupt politicians of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, for instance. The corrupt politicos of Jammu and Kashmir are, for a change, under house arrest and cursing their fate. –IHN-NN


TAILPIECE: When farmers went to complain about drought and lack of water in irrigation ponds in western Maharashtra, some years ago, then state irrigation minister Ajit Pawar shot back: “What do you want me to do? Come and piss (urinate) in your ponds?”


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