Mumbai: Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), resigned from the state government on Tuesday, plunging the ruling Congress-NCP coalition government into a crisis as his resignation was followed by the exit of all other NCP ministers.
Pawar stepped down from his position over an alleged scam in the irrigation department.
While NCP said the resignation was in accordance with a high moral ground, many in political circles also see it as a division in the NCP led by Sharad Pawar, who is the uncle of Ajit Pawar.
NCP has ruled out any power struggle between Ajit Pawar and Sharad Pawar but what fuelled speculations is that all NCP ministers followed suit and resigned after the deputy chief minister stepped down.
NCP told reporters that there was no threat to the government of Prithviraj Chavan from the resignations though the latter reportedly had suggested a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the irrigation scam.
Pawar said he has sent his resignation Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
"I have sent my resignation letter to the CM's office. He has to accept it now," Pawar said while addressing a press conference on Tuesday.
Refusing to elaborate, Chavan said he would take a decision on the resignation of Pawar as the deputy chief minister only after consulting the leaders of NCP and Congress, who run the alliance government in the state.
"I have received a letter of resignation of Shri Ajit Pawar, tendering resignation from the council of ministers. He has also presented some alternative arrangement for two portfolios that he held- which were finance and energy," informed Chavan.
"After discussing with the leaders of the both parties I will take further action," he said in a brief appearance before the media following the resignation of Pawar.
The chief minister avoided any detailed comment on the resignation.
It was alleged that there were irregularities in awarding contracts for irrigation projects during Pawar's tenure as irrigation minister of the state. The scam is estimated to be worth thousands of crores of rupees.
Pawar had allegedly cleared at least 32 irrigation projects during his tenure in a hurry.
Pawar said he will not hold the post of the Deputy Chief Minister till he gets a 'clean chit'.
NCP leader Praful Patel said the truth would come out. "The NCP wants this and so does Ajit Pawar," he said.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who is the uncle of Pawar, himself ruled out that the government would fall and said his nephew showed great courage by deciding to resign.
"NCP will continue in the coalition government," Sharad Pawar said but soon other NCP ministers put in their papers. At least 19 NCP ministers resigned.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) meanwhile said Ajit Pawar should now cooperate with the investigation since random tenders were given in the irrigation scam worth thousands of crores.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said the irrigation scam is a big scam and it should be probed thoroughly so that people know where the money went.
"He should stick to his resignation," Javadekar said.