Mumbai, Nov 10: Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan has been named the next Maharashtra Chief Minister.
Chavan’s name was formally announced by senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday morning, after a meeting with the Congress President Sonia Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence. Chavan met Gandhi early today and Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony joined them.
Pranab Mukherjee said Antony had communicated the decision to the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief. A list of four contenders for the post had narrowed down to two by Wednesday morning - Prithviraj Chavan and Radhakrishnana Vikhe Patil - but Chavan was always leading the race.
With the name of leader after senior Congress leader cropping up in connection with the Adarsh Ho using society scam, the Congress’ choice has been limited, especially given that the party is in clean-up mode after battling several corruption scandals. In such situation, Chavan was the best choice with his efficient and clean image. The fact that he is close to and is valued by both the Prime Minister and the Congress President weighed heavily in his favour.
Chavan has hitherto held several key assignments in the Congress cabinet at the Centre and has handled crucial tasks. He was closely involved in the passage of the Indo-US Nuclear deal, is monitoring important CBI cases and is currently Minister of State not only in the PMO, but also in the Science and Technology, Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions and Parliamentary Affairs ministries.
The fact that Chavan is a Maratha also adds weight to his candidature. Marathas are the dominant caste in Maharashtra and the Congress will hope that Chavan will manage power equations with ally NCP - helmed by Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar. Chavan is from Karad in western Maharashtra and is a strong opponent of Sharad Pawar.
Challenges before Chavan
But there are some not unsubstantial disadvantages. Chavan is seen more as a Delhi man. He has no mass base in Maharashtra. He is currently a Rajya Sabha MP and it has been some time since he fought a Lok Sabha election from the state. He has, thus, been away from the nitty-gritty of on-ground state politics and lacks the necessary connect with party MLAs in the state. He may have to deal with opponents within the state Congress as well as the NCP, with his well-known anti-NCP stance.
To build a relationship with the Congress MLAs shall be his immediate challenge and task. What should help him is the fact that he belongs to an old Congress family and his mother Premala Tai Chavan was a Maharashtra Congress chief. The other challenge shall be to get together different factions within the state Congress which has many local satraps with their mass following.
Chavan will also have to work to turn around the perception of deep-rooted corruption in a coalition that has now ruled for a decade.
MLAs ask Sonia to pick next CM
The Congress Legislative Party met on Tuesday evening to choose a leader and after a meeting that lasted almost an hour, the MLAs left the decision to Sonia Gandhi.
A one-line resolution was passed by the CLP meeting authorising Gandhi to pick the new Chief Minister of the state. The resolution was moved by the outgoing Chief Minister and seconded by Revenue Minister Narayan Rane, Legislative Council Chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh and former Chief Minister Shivajirao Patil-Nilangekar, party sources said.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister AK Antony were present as central observers at the meeting in Mumbai. Both leaders had been appointed by Sonia Gandhi to look into the Adarsh Housing Scam and submit an internal report.
Pranab Mukherjee reportedly told the MLAs that a change of Chief Minister was necessary because of public perception on the Adarsh scam. He said political parties cannot afford to neglect public perception.
"We had some interaction with individual MLAs who wanted to give their views. They have given. Most of them have stated that whatever the high command will decide, they will accept it," Mukherjee said after the meeting.
"Some of them (MLAs) have said that this is my individual suggestion. We have noted everything, will report to the Congress president and after obtaining when she will decide it will be communicated to you", he added.