Beleaguered Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh resigned on Monday on "moral grounds" soon after the Bombay high court ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the allegations of corruption levelled against him by former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh.
The resignation of the senior Nationalist Congress Party leader, who has denied the allegations and had been resisting calls to quit, has added another chapter into the political-police drama that unfolded after the discovery of a car with explosives near industrialist Mukesh Ambani's Mumbai home in February-end.
Deshmukh, who was given the key home department after the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government came to power in November 2019, submitted his resignation letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, NCP minister Nawab Malik told reporters.
According to NCP sources, Deshmukh is likely to approach the Supreme Court to challenge the Bombay HC order.
After tendering his resignation in the afternoon, Deshmukh visited the national capital and met senior lawyers here.
Earlier in the day, the HC directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry within 15 days into allegations of corruption and misconduct levelled by Singh against Deshmukh, a veteran political from Vidarbha who has been a minister for most part of the last more than two decades (barring 2014-19).
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni said this was an "extraordinary" and "unprecedented" case that warranted an independent inquiry.
In its 52-page judgement, the bench said Singh's allegations against Deshmukh (70) had put at stake the citizen's faith in the state police.
Deshmukh also tweeted a copy of the letter, in which he said the HC has passed an order for a preliminary probe by the CBI on a petition filed by advocate Jayshri Patil into the allegations.
"I don't have the moral right to continue in office after the court order.I have decided to quit. Kindly relieve me from my post," Deshmukh's resignation letter said.
After the court order, Deshmukh met NCP president Sharad Pawar and expressed his desire to step down as he felt it was inappropriate to continue in office after the CBI steps in, Malik said.
"Deshmukh went to hand over the letter to Thackeray after Pawar gave his "green signal" to quit," Malik said.
Singh's allegations are baseless but the party respects the court and hence the minister has quit, Malik said, adding the truth will come out.
"The state government has already ordered a probe by a retired judge into the claims but we respect the judiciary and after the court orders, Deshmukh himself said he doesn't wish to continue," Malik said, referring to his party colleague.
The HC took note of the serious allegations against Deshmukh, who was under fire after the bomb threat case and the arrest of assistant police inspector Sachin Waze for his alleged role in parking the explosives-laden SUV near Ambani's home and the murder of a Thane businessman.
Such allegations, made by a serving police officer, against the state home minister could not be left unattended, and were required to be probed into, if prima facie, they made a case of a cognisable offence, the HC said.
The court said a probe by an independent agency was necessary in the present case, to "instill public confidence and safeguard the Fundamental Rights of the citizens".
The HC pronounced its verdict on three public interest litigations and a criminal writ petition filed last month, seeking several reliefs and a CBI probe into the matter.
One of the PILs was filed by Singh himself, and the other two were filed by lawyer Ghanshyam Upadhyay and local teacher Mohan Bhide.
The criminal writ petition was filed by city-based lawyer Jayshree Patil. The HC ordered for the CBI inquiry on Patil's plea.
Singh, in his plea filed on March 25, sought a CBI probe against Deshmukh who, he claimed, had asked police officers, including suspended cop Sachin Waze, to extort Rs 100 crore from bars and restaurants in Mumbai.
Buoyed by Deshmukh's resignation, the Bharatiya Janata Party trained its guns on Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, saying he has forfeited the moral authority to govern after the HC order against his cabinet colleague.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, senior BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked if Thackeray has no moral responsibility following Deshmukh's resignation.
So many major incidents have happened under his government, Prasad said, referring to the Sachin Waze case and Singh's corruption allegations against Deshmukh.
"He has forfeited moral authority to govern," Prasad said, attacking the Shiv Sena leader for his "conspicuous silence" over the matter.
State BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said he is happy that Deshmukh has quit, and added there will be many "shocking revelations" in the CBI probe.
"Those who make mistakes should be punished or else democracy won't be strengthened. Many skeletons will tumble out after the 15-day CBI preliminary probe," Patil said.
The Maharashtra government will come out with its response after studying the HC judgement, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said.
Talking to reporters in Mumbai, Raut said the MVA government will study the ruling and then respond.
"No investigating agency is an incarnation of God. The issue is political, too. Our tradition is that we honour decisions of the judiciary," the Sena MP said.