The sudden takeover by Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra was planned "drama" to protect Rs 40,000 crore in central funds and return it safely, BJP leader Ananth Kumar Hegde has said in a startling claim that has embarrassed his party. The controversy-prone MP from Karnataka also said on Saturday that it took "15 hours" for Mr Fadnavis to make sure the money was safe.
"You all know that recently in Maharashtra for just 80 hours our person was Chief Minister, but soon Fadnavis resigned. Why did we have to do this drama? Didn't we know? Despite knowing we don't have a majority, why did he become Chief Minister? This is the question everyone asks," Mr Hegde said on Saturday, while campaigning in Yallapor in his Uttara Kannada constituency for by-polls on Thursday.
He said "more than Rs 40,000 crore" was under the Chief Minister's control. "If the NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena came to power, certainly that Rs 40,000 crore would not have gone for development and would have been (misused)," said the MP.
"This was all planned earlier. It was decided that whatever happens, a big drama was necessary. Which is why there was an adjustment and he became Chief Minister. In those 15 hours, Fadnavis made sure the money went where it was supposed to go... it was kept safe. It was all returned to the centre. If it had been kept here - the next chief minister -you know what would have happened," Mr Hegde claimed.
The former union minister was fact-checked by Mr Fadnavis, his own party colleague.
"No such thing happened. These are completely false claims. I took no policy decision when I was in office. This is not the way these things happen. The government's finance department can investigate such claims," Mr Fadnavis said of his party MP's comments.
The former chief minister also referred to the bullet train project, which the new government says will be reviewed. "A company of the central government is implementing the bullet train project, where the Maharashtra government's role is restricted to land acquisition only. Neither the Centre asked for any funds nor the Maharashtra government sent it back," Mr Fadnavis said, adding, "Not a single rupee of Maharashtra government has been returned to the Centre from any other project."
Mr Hegde's comments seem to be based on a viral WhatsApp forward apparently circulated and also posted on Twitter to justify Mr Fadnavis's 80-hour stint.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted: "A union minister opened the Pandora's box of Modi government, BJP's anti-Maharashtra face has been unmasked. Was the federal structure being trumped? Was Rs 40,000 crore meant for the welfare of the public and farmers withdrawn due to a conspiracy? Prime Minister, Reply! (sic)"
NCP leader Nawab Malik said that it was not possible to transfer such a huge amount of Rs 40,000 crore back to the centre, saying such reports were being spread to hide the BJP's defeat in Maharashtra.
Mr Fadnavis was sworn in as Maharashtra Chief Minister on November 23, in a surprise oath ceremony at 7.50 am. Also sworn in with him was Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar, who had promised to bring enough MLAs to help the BJP reach a majority. Mr Pawar failed to make good on his promise and Mr Fadnavis resigned on Tuesday after being asked by the Supreme Court to prove his majority within a day.
The Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray took oath as the new Chief Minister two days later. Mr Thackeray is leading a Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress alliance that was formed after the Sena broke away from the BJP, its ally of over 30 years, over power-sharing.
Sanjay Raut, a Rajya Sabha member of the Shiv Sena, tweeted that it was "treachery" if an 80-hour Chief Minister had moved Rs 40,000 crore from Maharashtra to the Centre.