NCP leader Ajit Pawar sparked alarm, controversy and furious debate in Maharashtra this morning after leading his party in support of the BJP in its bid to retain power in Maharashtra. Mr Pawar, who was last month named by the Enforcement Directorate in the Rs 25,000-crore Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank Ltd. scam, was sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister. Seconds earlier the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, whose government had repeatedly attacked Ajit Pawar over alleged corruption charges, had been sworn in as Chief Minister for a second term.
Ajit Pawar served as Deputy Chief Minister between November 2010 and September 2012 before resigning over allegations of an irrigation scam. "I am just an MLA now. I won't accept any ministry or post till I am cleared of all allegations," he said at the time.
The accusations Mr Pawar faced at the time included granting about 32 contracts within three months worth Rs. 13,500 crores in the state's Vidarbha region at high rates.
In 2014, soon after taking charge as Chief Minister for the first time, Devendra Fadnavis had sanctioned an investigation against Ajit Pawar by the state anti-corruption bureau.
On being charged by the Enforcement Directorate, just before October polls, Ajit Pawar quit as MLA saying he was "upset that Sharad Pawar (his uncle) had been defamed at his age because of me".
Enforcement Directorate officials have said cases against as many as 70 NCP leaders, including Ajit Pawar and his uncle, party chief Sharad Pawar, are open and ongoing.
"The case is open and we are preparing our grounds to summon those named in the FIR for questioning and no one will be spared," an agency official told news agency IANS.
Earlier in the day Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut alleged the BJP had used the corruption cases filed against Ajit Pawar to persuade him to split the party and offer support.
"When (Devendra) Fadnavis was the Chief Minister, he had said his (Ajit Pawar) place is in Arthur Road (jail). Was the ED investigation used to split the party (NCP)? And, will Cabinet meetings happen in Arthur Road jail now," Mr Raut asked.
The NCP's apparent tie up with the BJP also throws into focus money-laundering cases against party leaders like former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and former state minister Chhagan Bhujbal.
Praful Patel had been questioned in connection with a probe into business deals involving national carrier Air India, while Mr Bhujbal was arrested in March 2016 on charges of misusing his office; he is a former public works department minister.
Ajit Pawar's elevation to the Deputy Chief Minister's post also throws a spotlight on Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' repeated assertions, made in 2013 and 2014, that the BJP would "never, never, never" have any alliance with the NCP.
"The BJP will never, never, never have any alliance with NCP. Rumours are motivated. We exposed their corruption in assembly. Others were silent," Mr Fadnavis tweeted on September 26, 2014.