MUMBAI: The new-found assertiveness of Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan appears to have taken a sabbatical after the poor performance of the Congress in the recent civic polls. In the days leading to the polls, Chavan had shed his reticent image and donned a new avatar in which he took on his critics without giving much thought to repercussions. The dawn of what seemed to be a new era in Chavan’s tenure as CM came when he became one of the few Congress leaders in the state to take on Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. He said the NCP was born out of a personal ambition (of Pawar).
This attack on Pawar altogether changed the image of Chavan who was till then being tagged as a glorified bureaucrat who was not suitable for the rough and tumble of politics in the state. With the new-found confidence, Chavan publicly reminded Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar that he is the boss in Maharashtra and that all final decisions related to governance rests with him. Now he did not mince words to point out that before he took over as the CM “the overriding trend in the state was to give top priority to push for decisions that benefited individuals,” a disturbing trend which he claimed to have reversed.
As a Union minister, Chavan was privileged to be given the responsibility of six portfolios, a feat that was only surpassed by the PM. However, the Maharashtra CM post was altogether a different ball game. “It took some time for me to adjust in Maharashtra as I did not have any exposure of state and legislatures, daily interaction with elected representatives and officials was new to me. But I’m now getting a hang of it,” Chavan was quoted in an interview. A senior state Congress leader said that Chavan’s perceived strengths were turning out to be his weaknesses and vice versa. “Being a person of impeccable integrity, Chavan conveyed to the Congress leadership in Delhi that he would not involve himself in collection of funds for the party as CM. He is the first Congress CM in recent times who has taken such a stand,” said a senior Congress leader. A year ago, Chavan the new CM was written off by party MLAs and coalition ministers for being indecisive and many in the Congress unanimously prophesied his early return to Delhi. The polls have again given an opportunity to Chavan’s detractors to lobby with the party leadership in Delhi to have him replaced.
The civic polls were a good opportunity for Chavan to consolidate his position as CM. However, many believe that it was an opportunity that was wasted by Chavan. “The CM was misguided by leaders in charge of the elections. Like others, Chavan also believed that mere alliance with the NCP would ensure victory. The results are now for everybody to see,” said Mumbai Congress General Secretary Ajit Sawant, facing suspension for criticising the Congress leadership on ticket distribution.
Chavan’s confidence turned into over-confidence when he predicted doom of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and literally gave his detractors a weapon on the platter. “This may be one of the reasons why the Congress lost the elections, as it filled the Shiv Sena supporters and sympathisers with rage to come out in full strength to vote,” said Sawant. Such statements only highlighted Chavan’s lack of awareness about the political dynamics in Maharashtra.
The civic poll results notwithstanding, Chavan is creating a legacy which would be very difficult for those who would take over from him. Chavan happens to be the first CM who has taken on the powerful builder lobby. This is in stark contradiction to his predecessors Ashok Chavan and Vilasrao Deshmukh who doled out largesse to them. The changes in development control rules and curtailing the discretionary powers of the Mumbai civic body chief and the CM are just a few examples of key decisions taken by Chavan aimed to curb corruption and bring in transparency. With his good connections in Delhi, Chavan managed to clear several long-pending decisions, including the second airport at Navi Mumbai and amendments in the Coastal Regulation Zone rules allowing redevelopment of 720 km coastline of the state. He is also reviving the ambitious water transport project which promises to reduce burden on Mumbai’s saturated road and rail transport.
“There are several postulates to Chavan’s transition. Some say that he had to amend after being given an ultimatum from Congress leadership in Delhi following growing number of grievances against him. It was do or die situation for him forcing him to make drastic changes in the way he conducted. However, the fact remains that he has the blessings of the Congress leadership and whether he continues to live up to their expectations is remained to be seen,” said a former Congress minister.