Knives were out as former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said 'law will catch up' with his ex-deputy Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam, prompting a strong retaliation from the NCP leader who said his party would order a probe into the decisions taken by his former boss during the last two months.
Amid a bitter verbal duel between the two former comrades-in-arms, NCP also withdrew its candidate for Karad South assembly seat from where Chavan is contesting and decided to support sitting Congress MLA Vilas Patil Undalkar, a 7-term legislator, who is in the fray as an independent.
"If the Madhav Chitale Committee had given him (Pawar) a clean chit as he claims, why has the court ordered an inquiry against him and (NCP Maharashtra Unit Chief Sunil) Tatkare? The Chitale Committee report said the Irrigation Development Corporation cannot be chaired by a minister. Was he (Pawar) not a minister then? Our legal system, though slow, eventually delivers. Even Jayalalithaa was convicted after 18 years," Chavan said.
He said the first thing he would do post-elections, if voted back to power, will be to do away with corrupt practices.
"I was sent to Maharashtra to clean up the existing system. I tried to do that even though all were against me. A coalition government did not let me do my job completely. But if we get a majority now, my first priority will be to ensure that no minister is a state co-operative Chairman," Chavan told PTI in an interview.
Rebutting the charge, Pawar said "NCP too will have to launch a probe into the decisions taken by Chavan in the last two months. As an ordinary citizen, I have sought information about the decisions taken in the Urban Development department through an RTI query."
Pawar said he was surprised at the pace with which files pending for clearance for four years moved in the Urban Development Ministry headed by Chavan in the last two months.
Pawar, nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, said there was no question of law catching up with him in the irrigation scam because he had done no wrong.
"All files which were moved to me by bureaucrats in the so-called irrigation scam were cleared. Had I overruled them, then allegations of my complicity would have been understandable," he said.
Pawar, who was often at loggerheads with Chavan even while being in the government, said the controversy started because the Chief Minister promised a white paper on the irrigation department after opposition parties questioned different figures regarding irrigation potential given by two government departments.
"The Chief Minister should have said he would verify the facts and get back to them. Instead, he assured a white paper giving ammunition to the opposition leaders," he said.
"In fact, when I was the Irrigation Minister I had ordered two inquiries regarding irregularities in the department," Pawar said.
He also hit out at Chavan for his remarks that it was because of his vaulting ambition that the alliance broke.
"A person with a clean image should not spread such falsehood that the alliance broke because of my ambition to become CM. In 2004, I could have taken the post as NCP was the single largest party," he said.
Chavan, on his part, said he knew that NCP had a "game plan" up its sleeve the moment it asked for an equal share of 144 of the state's 288 assembly seats and rotational chief ministership for half of the five-year term if the alliance was voted back to power.
"I was surprised when they (NCP) asked us to share the CM's post. I knew after this that the alliance will eventually break. This was their game plan...Hand over the state to BJP (by pulling out of the government) and in return get a ministerial berth at the Centre," he said.
Pawar, on the other hand, said Congress was not even prepared to accept NCP's demand for 135 seats.
On rotational chief ministership, he said "if Congress had said the demand would be considered if we came to power again NCP would have agreed for continuing the alliance."
Pawar ruled out a post-poll alliance with Congress, saying NCP would get a majority on its own.