The arrest of veteran Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with its probe in a money laundering case rocked Maharashtra Legislature on Tuesday with protesting opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party members alleging it was "vendetta politics" of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.
A day after Bhujbal's arrest in Mumbai on Monday in connection with the alleged scam in construction of Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, a special Prevention of Money Laundering Act court sent the 68-year-old former Deputy chief minister in ED custody till March 17.
As protests by the NCP workers broke out on the streets, Bhujbal was produced before the court where ED counsel Hiten Venegaonkar said the former PWD minister did not cooperate when his statement was recorded by the agency on Monday.
"For most of the questions put to him, his answer was 'he doesn't know'," Venegaonkar told the court.
Bhujbal became emotional while pleading innocence and his eyes became misty.
He told the court that he had not done anything wrong and that he was being framed as part of a conspiracy.
"I have not done anything wrong. I have cooperated. I have been into social service for the past 50 years. When some questions were put to me (by ED), I genuinely said that I did not know, but still I was arrested," he said.
Rejecting the opposition charge, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the legislative assembly that Bhujbal's arrest was not an act of vendetta and the ED had acted "only after concrete proof" and that the state government has nothing to do with it. "Should ED keep quiet if there has been corruption?"
"We will not help those seeking to suppress scams," he said, adding, "it is unfortunate that discussion in the House, instead of centring on drought situation, should be on this issue".
The assembly was adjourned four times and the opposition members walked out of the house while the Council was adjourned for the day following ruckus over the issue.
As the proceedings began in the House, opposition members started shouting slogans condemning the arrest of the senior NCP leader, a sitting MLA from Yeola in Nashik district.
The House was initially adjourned for 10 minutes and later three more times as the noisy scenes continued.
The Opposition members later staged a walkout from the House for the day, protesting the "vendetta politics" of the government.
In Legislative Council, the Congress and NCP forced the adjournment of the House for the day over the issue.
As the Upper House assembled, the opposition members, through an adjournment motion, called for the House to set aside the day's business and discuss the arrest.
Opposition Leader Dhananjay Munde, who moved the motion, held that Bhujbal was a former Deputy Chief Minister, a former LoP, an ex-member of the Council, and his arrest has had repercussions across the state.
"People across the state are angry and are protesting over the manner in which he was arrested despite cooperating with the investigation agencies. It is thus imperative that all other business must be set aside and the House discuss the issue," Munde said.
NCP workers took to streets in Mumbai and also blocked the busy Mumbai-Agra national highway in Nashik, Bhujbal's home district in north Maharashtra.
In Mumbai, more than 150 workers of NCP from areas like Bhandup, Vikhroli, Deonar, Goregaon, Worli, Bandra, Kurar and Chembur were detained when they were staging "rasta rokos" to protest against Bhujbal's arrest, police said, adding they were later released.
In Nashik district, Bhujbal's supporters blocked the highway near Ozar, 21 km from city, and staged a protest even as several commercial establishments remained closed in some areas in the city.
The protest affected the movement of vehicular traffic, before police rounded them up and cleared the highway.
Bhujbal represents Yeola Assembly constituency which falls in Nashik district.
NCP activists also staged a 'rasta-roko' in busy Central Bus Stand locality of Nashik city. However, police rushed to the spot and cleared the road.
Interestingly, Congress rushed to defend the beleaguered NCP leader and took potshots at the Centre for "letting" debt-ridden businessman Vijay Mallya leave the country when he was facing loan default proceedings.
Stating that standing by Bhujbal was its "alliance dharma," the Leader of Opposition in Legislative Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said, "If the government can let Vijay Mallya, accused of defaulting on bank loans running in thousands of crore, leave the country, they could have avoided Bhujbal's arrest as well".