The Chavan show: How to lose a Deputy in 2 years
When Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan took over as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 2010 after the then Congress Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was embroiled in the Adarsh scandal, not many gave him more than six to seven months at the helm. It was not without reason; though Prithviraj had worked as a minister in the PMO, he was still considered a political novice. The popular refrain was that if Chavan would not fall prey to the internal rivalry between different factions in the Congress, he would definitely succumb to the power of Ajit Pawar who even senior NCP leaders have found tough to handle. The Chief Minister himself was aware of it which is why he was also not too keen on coming to Maharashtra and was literally forced into accepting the assignment by the Congress party.
The signs were pretty ominous for Chavan in his initial days; within a few weeks Congress MLAs started grumbling how Chavan did not even know their names and how having him at the helm was a disaster in the making.
Two years down the line Chavan is having the last laugh, all his detractors have been proved wrong. In spite of numerous attempts to unseat him, Chavan still continues firmly in the saddle and Pawar, the man who was harbouring ambitions of becoming Chief Minister in the 2014 elections, is currently a man without any ministry.
Today even Chavan’s staunchest critics in the party have a grudging admiration for him. “He has definitely surprised us. He has by far managed to handle the NCP threat quite well. Till date no Congress leader could have tackled Ajit the way he has,” said a Congress MLA who was part of a group that had complained against Chavan earlier in Delhi.
Congress leaders said that Chavan first systematically brought up the issue of lack of progress of irrigation projects and demanded a white paper on it. The NCP was totally caught off guard with Chavan’s demand and began making uncomfortable noises. Chavan’s demand was timely as the state was going through a severe drought and in spite of spending thousands of crores of rupees, the water had still not reached the farmers.
A few months after the demand, a Chief Engineer of the Maharashtra Water Resources Ministry, Vijay Pandhare, began writing a series of letters to Chavan and others pointing out corruption in the irrigation schemes and even asking him to rein in Pawar.
Along with Pandhare’s letters, details of Pawar’s controversial decisions also began to be leaked, like clearing projects worth Rs 13,000 crore without mandatory approvals prior to the 2009 election. The NCP, more particularly the Pawar camp, felt that it was the CM who was leaking out the details. So exasperated was Pawar with the allegations that he wanted Pandhare to be shifted but the CM didn’t oblige. A miffed Pawar finally quit after he couldn’t convince even NCP chief Sharad Pawar on the issue.
It’s not just Pawar, Chavan has also hit out at the criticism against him that he did not clear any files. In a Congress gathering a couple of months back, Chavan thundered that he has cleared more files than any other Congress CM in Maharashtra. Though he did not name the CMs, it was clear that he was targeting former Chief Ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan whose supporters were accusing him of going slow in clearing files.
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Ratnakar Mahajan speaking on the campaign against Chavan’s leadership said, “A lot of people with vested interests were carrying out a propaganda that Chavan on account of coming from Delhi is not suitable due to his lack of grassroot-level knowledge. This was patently false; he has been elected twice as an MP from Karad near Solapur in Maharashtra. He lost by small margin the third time.”
On the issue of how Chavan had silenced the NCP, Mahajan said, “The NCP, which is a split-away group from the Congress, is trying to make issues out of non-issues and Chavan who is a cool head and ideologically firm person is the right candidate to deal with it (NCP).” Congress leaders said that they have seen a sea change within Chavan over the past two years. “He is not afraid to take on rivals both within and outside the party, and the way the Ajit Pawar issue panned out due to the irrigation controversy shows that he is a shrewd politician.”
Mahajan, however, feels that after the latest episode “Chavan’s leadership has been confirmed till 2014.” That would really be bad news not just for the different Congress factions in the state but also the NCP.