In an attempt to give a 'cleaner' look to Maharashtra political scene Prithviraj Chavan has been named the CM. Question arises will he be able to lift the state with his clean image or will he also become a part of the game?
RECEIVING US President in Mumbai was a political consolation to the outgoing Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan. Departure of Barak Obama was followed by his departure and Prithviraj Chavan was named the 25th Chief Minister of Maharashtra. He will be the 16th person to take the oath of office of this highly prestigious post. His predecessor had this honor twice so did Vilasrao Deshmukh and Shankar Rao Chavan.
Vasantrao Naik, Vasantdada Patil and Sharad Pawar held the coveted position three times each. Vasantrao Naik was the only Chief Minister, who had occupied the office for full five year term (1967-1972) starting from formation of the Vidhan Sabha to dissolution of it. He is also the longest serving Chief Minister of Maharashtra totaling more than 10 years of uninterrupted tenure.Prithviraj Chavan’s choice as Chief of the Congress legislature party in Maharashtra, even though he was never member of state assembly, signals a long term strategy of the Congress high-command. Maharashtra has become an exception in Sonia Gandhi’s strategy to continue having the CM post under Congress in Maharashtra and other Congress-ruled states. All these years in politics, Prithviraj Chavan has maintained distance from various state factions and kept himself away from lobbying for anybody for positions in state politics. This has become his edge over other contenders for the top post. While he has acquired considerable experience as administrator in central government, he lacks first hand political knowledge of handling the 24X7 conspirators in Maharashtra Congress. His selection is also a clear message to the central ministers from Maharashtra, mainly Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde, to concentrate on their incumbent jobs rather than scoring goals in the murky state politics. As a minister in UPA government since last 6 years and working in the PMO all this while, Prithviraj Chavan is well acquainted with priorities of Manmohan Singh government and its flagship programs. This is an advantage for him in implementing centrally-sponsored schemes in the state. On the other hand, his ability to grasp the rural and agricultural despair and provide remedy to it will be tested during his tenure. In the last Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections, the loan waiver scheme had boosted the Congress performance significantly. This may not be the factor four years from now when the state will go for scheduled elections. In spite of the rapid rate of urbanization and emergence of city-centered political forces like MNS, farmers hold the political key in Maharashtra; particularly the agricultural community in Vidarbha and Marathvada region. These are the least familiar areas for Chavan. Demand for separate statehood not only exists but s getting strengthened in these two regions. This is not good news for the new CM, who is after all an outsider in state politics.Prithviraj Chavan’s posting in Mumbai is also aimed at countering influence of NCP in its stronghold of western Maharashtra. In rest of Maharashtra, NCP’s strength is limited to certain pockets and is stagnated. Although Chavan hails from western Maharashtra and thrice elected from family’s pocket borough Karad, of late, he has not been engaging with people in the region. In fact, he was defeated by the newly formed NCP’s candidate in 1999 Lok Sabha election. NCP’s Sriniwas Patil has recorded three consecutive victories in this constituency since formation of the party by Sharad Pawar. Nonetheless, the NCP has taken up the challenge of Prithviraj Chavan entering the state politics quite seriously. The first sign of it was Ajit Pawar’s elevation as Deputy Chief Minister. Energetic nephew of Sharad Pawar knows the nitty-gritty of western Maharashtra’s politics and can help the party protect its Maratha vote bank. However, demotion of Chagan Bhujbal seriously threatens NCP’s credibility as party of all social groupings, particularly among the OBCs in the state. His immediate and future accommodation in NCP’s hierarchy will have long term effect on NCP’s attempts to increase its support base in the state.Chavan’s appointment is also a result of political negation wherein rest of his competitors became ineligible due to some sort of allegation of corruption against them; the main reason of leadership change merely a year after last assembly elections. However, many corrupt faces will continue to hold portfolios in the Prithviraj Chavan’s ministry; making it tough for him to provide clean administration. Years of deliberate neglect of corrupt activities of state leaders has resulted into a situation where in the state government has become hostage to lobbies of industrialists, mining mafias, real estate dealers, educational czars, liquor barons and co-operative supremos. They are the real power bearers no matter, who the Chief Minister is or whoever is his deputy. Neither Chavan nor the Congress has any program to break the stranglehold of these powerful lobbies to provide relief to common man. The new CM, in all probability, will provide stable government since equally corrupt and inept political opposition in the state pose no threat to the ruling alliance. Fight against corruption cannot be won by rhetoric and symbolism but by people oriented policies and clear priorities. Interestingly, Chavan has not uttered a word so far against high level corruption; instead he is seeking co-operation from everyone, including the tainted politicians.Thus, political and administrative challenges before the new CM are enormous. Only sky is the limit for performance. Can he? Will he? These are the key questions in the minds of people in the state, who are desperately seeking positive answers.