Express News Service
MUMBAI: Chhagan Bhujbal is undoubtedly the strongest of the Other Backward Caste (OBC) leaders and a force to reckon with in Maharashtra politics. After his release on bail in money laundering case, worth over Rs 800 crore, last week, the one question being repeatedly asked is whether he would join the active politics again.
There are several unasked supplementary questions like, whether he would be able to bounce back in the state politics? What would be his political stand? Whether he will get support from his party boss Sharad Pawar or will he have to dump the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and go back to the Shiv Sena? Or else whether he would pursue his dream of floating a broad OBC front in the state?
After returning home from hospital earlier this week, Bhujbal, in his typical style, preferred to keep people guessing while saying that the doctor has advised him rest. Bhujbal praised Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray for their support to him while he was lodged up in the jail. His son Pankaj had visited Thackery’s residence Matoshree just a day ahead of Bhujbal being discharged from the hospital, while he himself went to Sharad Pawar’s residence Silver Oak a day after he was discharged from the hospital and told the media that Pawar has advised him to take rest for a few days.
Several of senior NCP leaders from Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule to Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil hailed him and welcomed him. But, Pawar didn’t utter a word. Pawar never want to meet Bhujbal in jail or even to his residence after his release. People close to Bhujbal feel that all these things mean Pawar has dumped him. Several of them openly express their displeasure. Pawar did nothing to pull Bhujbal out of the rut, they say.
On the other hand, people who know how Pawar stood behind Bhujbal during allegations against him in the ill famous Stam-Paper scam involving Abdul Karim Telgi, are puzzled over what Pawar is thinking now. Whether he feels Bhujbal has crossed all the limits, or he is annoyed because Bhujbal did so many things behind his back, or whether – as go the popular speculations – he sacrifice Bhujbal to save his nephew Ajit Pawar involved in the irrigation scam.
Bhujbal has become the first political leader in Maharashtra to have been jailed for over two years under criminal charges like bribery, amassing wealth, money laundering etc. and the Enforcement Directorate has repeatedly said while opposing his several bail applications earlier that there is prima facie evidence against him in all these charges. In such a condition both things – Pawar supporting him and he returning to active politics with full vigor – seem difficult, a party insider has said.
Bhujbal is known for his oratory and the aggressive style of politics that always made his opponents fear. After leaving Shiv Sena in early ‘90s he was the loan Congress leader during the Shiv Sena-BJP rule in the state in between 1995-99 who brought the government to knees in the assembly several times. In a recent editorial of Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, Bhujbal was slammed for his efforts to arrest Balasaheb Thackeray while he was the home minister but it also praised him for his virtues, which is being interpreted that his re-entry into Shiv Sena might be welcomed. The Shiv Sena too would benefit out of a firebrand leader like him.
Bhujbal, had also tried to form a mega OBC front along with BJP’s Gopinath Munde in the last decade. But, whether the OBC voter who is divided in several political parties would go with him remains a question. Also, the truth about his health is not entirely known as yet. According to his son Bhujbal will have to be operated upon for an ailment of pancreas and would need some time to be completely fit for the hectic politics.
Bhujba’s journey from Byculla’s vegetable market to neighbouring Arthur Road Jail
• Born on August 14, 1947 Bhujbal hailed from a humble background. His mother worked as fruit vendor at a small stall in Buculla Vegetable market.
• Impressed with Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray’s oratory skills Bhujbal left his Diploma Engineering education at the prestigious VJTI institute to join politics in late ‘60s.
• After briefly working in party organization as Shakha Pramukh he was elected as corporator in 1973.
• He was chairman of the standing committee before being elected as Mayor in 1985. He is the only leader whom Shiv Sena trusted with the post twice.
• The same year he also became the party MLA.
• With the realizing of his increased power as an OBC leader post Mandal he switched loyalty to the Congress in 1990 and became a minister.
• After a setback in 1995 assembly election he switched to Nashik district and joined Sharad Pawar’s NCP in 1999.
• After an attack on a TV channel office in 2003 post allegations in Telgi scam Bhujbal had to vacate the Deputy Chief Minister’s post.
• In the predominantly Maratha party – the NCP – Bhujbal’s political suffocation led him to float the idea of mega OBC front in the state. He was supported by BJP’s Gopinath Munde. However, the front never saw the light of the day.
• He was politically rehabilitated in 2004 as PWD minister. He enjoyed the post till 2014. He is credited with infrastructural development initiatives in Nashik including the express way, 8km long flyover etc.
• The Enforcement Directorate arrested Bhujbal in 2016 under charges of money laundering and he was sent to the Arthur road where he stayed for most part if past two years.
Major cases against Bhujbal
The allegations: It is alleged that the redevelopment of Maharashtra Sadan, state guesthouse in New Delhi, was not advertised. The contractor allegedly gave a sub-contract to companies owned by Bhujbal’s kin and friend. A private developer was reportedly allowed to carry out the makeover of the Sadan and an RTO at Andheri in lieu for FSI for a slum rehabilitation project in Andheri. The FIR said the move benefited the developer, KS Chamankar, but the state suffered losses.
The allegations: According to ACB sources, the case involves a prime plot at Kalina belonging to the Mumbai University. The university decided to construct a library through a government entity. In 2009, the PWD, then under Bhujbal, allegedly issued tenders to construct the library on one part of the plot, and allegedly leased out the remaining land to a well-known developer for 99 years at Re 1 for a square metre. This caused huge losses to the state exchequer.