Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Wednesday accused the BJP-led Central government of suppressing dissent following the arrest of NCP leader and Maharashtra minister of Minority Affairs Nawab Malik by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

“We were certain that something like this would happen soon. Nawab Malik had been outspoken against the Centre and its misuse of agencies…Those who express their views openly against the BJP government and the investigating agencies, those who speak the truth, are being harassed,” said Pawar, commenting on Malik’s arrest.

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“It is easy to link a Muslim [political] worker with Dawood [Ibrahim]. I also faced similar allegations when I was Chief Minister of Maharashtra. An environment was created [against me] which lasted for some 25 years… Link people with a name, harass and defame them by misusing power. The same is happening in this case,” the 81-year-old NCP chief added.

Other NCP leaders also voiced their concerns about the BJP’s alleged misuse of central agencies, with NCP state president and Maharashtra minister for Water Resources (Irrigation) Jayant Patil telling media, “This has now become a familiar pattern which began with the ED targeting Anil Deshmukh and other ministers of the MVA government. But the NCP stands firmly behind Mr. Malik.”

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“For the last few months, we [NCP leaders] have frequently been given such threats [of probes by the ED or other central agency] by their [BJP] leaders on social media platforms like Twitter…Given that Nawab Malik was conducting one expose after another, it was anticipated that he would soon be troubled by a central agency. It is unfortunate that Maharashtra’s politics have come down to such a level,” added Supriya Sule, the NCP Member of Parliament (MP) from Baramati.

Apart from the NCP, leaders from opposition parties such as the Shiv Sena and the Congress also criticised the BJP-led central government.

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Congress MP Husain Dalwai accused the BJP of indulging in political vendetta, saying, “This is a party [BJP] that is groomed on the hate of Nathuram Godse [Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin]. Nothing else can be expected from this party.”

Senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut also criticised the Saffron party and called Malik’s arrest a “a deliberate challenge” to the ruling MVA government’s stability, adding that the BJP’s misuse of central agencies would not last beyond the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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Malik was arrested by the ED on Wednesday in connection with a money laundering probe into fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim and his associates, and joined a long list of opposition leaders, including State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, NCP leader Ajit Pawar, Shiv Sena leaders Anil Parab, Sanjay Raut, and Pratap Sarnaik, who have been targeted of late by central agencies.

The BJP, however, has rubbished claims of political vendetta and has asked opposition parties to seek legal recourse if they feel that the power of central agencies is being misused.