In the past few weeks, purported photos of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar meeting individuals with criminal backgrounds from Pune have sparked controversy. The sons of both leaders have also been allegedly seen associating with individuals with criminal histories. Opposition leaders claimed that these alleged connections with criminals are part of a strategy to influence voters in the upcoming elections.
Most of the alleged criminals in question are reportedly from Pune.
On Tuesday, Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut shared a purported photo showing Pune's notorious gangster Nilesh Ghaiwal with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Revenue Minister Shambhuraj Desai, and MLA Santosh Bangar.
Ghaiwal, who was arrested two years ago by Pune Police, is currently embroiled in a power struggle with the Gajanan Marne gang for control of the Kothrud area in Pune. Ghaiwal and Marne have recruited several youngsters into criminal activities.
Raut also claimed that 'supari killer' and sharpshooter Deepak Sapke joined the Shinde-led Shiv Sena in the presence of the Chief Minister, alleging a close association between the Chief Minister and the gangster. "As we can see, the Chief Minister in a jolly mood with the gangster. This sends a message. The message is that CM is protecting such people, " Raut said.
Apart from this, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar was photographed meeting Asif Dadhi, also known as Asif Mohammed Iqbal Shaikh, a notorious gangster from Pune associated with the Meghnath Shetty gang. Pawar met Dadhi at his official residence in Mumbai, adding to the controversy.
Party spokespersons defended these meetings, stating that the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister interact with numerous individuals daily, making it challenging to verify everyone's background.
A recent controversy emerged after it was reported that on the birthday of MP Shrikant Shinde, son of Eknath Shinde, notorious gangster Hemant Dabhekar visited Varsha, the official residence of the Maharashtra Chief Minister. The Yuva Sena leader who organized the meeting was subsequently sacked.
Last week, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar's son, Parth Pawar, met Pune gangster Gajanan Marne, accused of killing gangster Sharad Mohol.
In another instance, in January, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Nitesh Rane met slain gangster Sharad Mohol's wife, Swati Mohol, and expressed solidarity. Rane reportedly defended Mohol, saying he was wrongly portrayed as a criminal. Swati Mohol is an officer bearer of BJP's women's wing in Pune.
These meetings have drawn sharp criticism from the opposition in Maharashtra. Ambadas Danve, Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Council, expressed concern, stating, "Gangsters are reaching the residence of the Chief Minister. This is a proof of goonda raj in the state. The goondas are being roped in by parties in a bid to create terror in the minds of voters for gaining political mileage during elections".
Vijay Wadettiwar, Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, said, ""Before the elections, there is recruitment of gangsters in the grand coalition! All the three parties in power before the election have a strong competition to strengthen their own gang. How can people expect law and order from leaders who entertain goons?"