The Enforcement Directorate on Friday told Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar to not come to the agency’s office for questioning in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam, hours before he was scheduled to reach it, ANI reported.

“Enforcement Directorate has sent an e-mail stating that Sharad Pawar is not required to visit the office today,” NCP leader Nawab Malik told the news agency. He claimed that Pawar was firm in his decision to go to the ED office.

Later in the day, the NCP chief said that he would not visit the agency’s office as the Mumbai police commissioner and the joint commissioner of police had met him and requested him not to do so to maintain law and order.

“On September 24, 2019, in a press conference, I had mentioned that I will be visiting the ED’s Mumbai Zonal Office on September 27, 2019 in a matter pertaining to the Maharashtra state Cooperative Bank,” Pawar said in a tweet. “I had emailed a letter yesterday, intimating the Enforcement Directorate of my visit to their office. In response to my letter, the authority (ED) informed me that my presence in not required today and I will be duly informed if required, in relation to above mentioned matter.”

The Nationalist Congress Party chief said senior police officers in Mumbai met him and told him that there were likely to be law and order disturbances, and advised him not to visit the Enforcement Directorate’s office. “Considering the above request and to avoid any kind of inconvenience to the common man in Maharashtra, I have decided to not visit to the ED office,” Pawar wrote.

The Mumbai Police imposed prohibitory orders in areas of South Mumbai earlier in the day as Pawar was expected to reach the agency’s office by 2 pm.

The former Union minister and his nephew Ajit Pawar were booked on Tuesday in a money laundering case in connection with the Rs 25,000-crore bank scam. The ED’s move came just a month before Assembly elections in the state.

The Mumbai Police had imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that prohibits the assembly of more than four people at one place. Large gatherings were banned in Ballard Estate, where the offices of both the ED and the NCP are located. Security at the agency’s office was increased, and the area was cordoned off. Prohibitory orders were also in place in Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Marine Drive, Azad Maidan, Dongri, JJ Marg and MRA Marg.

The police had anticipated protests although Pawar had requested party workers to maintain peace. “I appeal to all my NCP cadre and supporters not to gather near the ED office premises,” Pawar tweeted. “Keeping our tradition to honour the constitution and respect for institutions, I request your co-operation to the police and other government agencies,” he added.

Five workers of the NCP’s youth wing were detained on Wednesday while protesting outside the Enforcement Directorate’s office in Mumbai. The protestors, led by NCP youth wing’s state unit chief Mehboob Shaikh, shouted slogans against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Shaikh claimed that the police charged the demonstrators with batons. “They [NCP workers] have been asked to gather at the party office [on Friday] and not at ED office,” an unidentified party functionary told Hindustan Times.

On Wednesday, Pawar had said that he had no problem with going to jail. “I will be pleased as I have never had this experience,” he had said. “If someone plans to send me to jail, I welcome it.” The NCP chief said he was “ready for any hospitality from directorate”, and added that he would provide investigators all the information he had about the case.

The Pawars are among a group of people accused of causing the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank to lose Rs 25,000 crore between 2007 and 2011. The Enforcement Directorate reported irregularities in the loans given to cooperative sugar factories by bank officials with alleged links to the owners of the factories. Funds were reportedly provided even though the factories had weak financials and negative net worth. Collaterals were allegedly not considered in several cases, and additional facilities were granted without any justification.

Reactions from politicians

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi condemned the action against the NCP chief. “Sharad Pawar is the latest Opposition leader to be targeted by a vindictive Government,” he said in a tweet. “The timing of this action, a month before elections in Maharashtra, reeks of political opportunism.”

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the Enforcement Directorate should have discussed the action being taken against Pawar with the government. “Pawar ji is a tall leader, his followers are present throughout the state, this will certainly have some reaction,” Raut told ANI.

NCP leaders cautioned that democracy in the nation was in danger and claimed that it will “be extinct” soon. The party’s chief spokesperson asserted there was no connection between Pawar and the alleged scam and accused the BJP of being behind it . “It seems the press note was issued from the BJP’s office,” Malik said, according to PTI. “We won’t tolerate the machination of maligning the party and its leader ahead of the polls. We are ready to face the situation.”

Dhananjay Munde, another leader from Pawar’s party, said that the BJP was “inebriated with power” and was stifling dissent in the Opposition. Munde also claimed that it was the Enforcement Directorate’s responsibility to maintain law and order after protests broke out over the case against Pawar.

The state’s NCP President Jayant Patil also accused the ruling BJP of muzzling voices of party workers. He, however, appealed to party members not to cause any inconvenience to citizens.

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