Prithviraj Chavan stakes claim to form the next government in Maharashtra

New Delhi/Mumbai:  Maharashtra Chief Minister-designate Prithviraj Chavan  on Wednesday night called on Governor K Sankaranarayan to submit letters of support and stake claim to form the next government in the state. He was accompanied by NCP leader and Deputy Chief Minister-designate Ajit Pawar.
The swearing-in ceremony will take place on Thursday at 4.30 pm. The 64-year-old Chavan, who resigned as union minister to take charge as Chief Minister, arrived in the city to a rousing welcome and drove to Sahaydri government guest house in south Mumbai and met independent MLAs and party legislators. (Read: Who is Prithviraj Chavan)

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 Manikrao Thakre. 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.(Read: Challenges of the Prithviraj Chavan takeover)

After his name was announced, Chavan said, "I accept CM's post with humility. I will try to take everybody with me together...The Congress leadership and MLAs in Maharashtra called upon me to undertake this responsibility of heading the government in Maharashtra at an important juncture. I seek the cooperation and support of all and I promise I'll do my best to give leadership to the state." (Watch)

He also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and submitted his resignation as the Minister of State in the PMO.

Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, Eknath Khadse said, "The first challenge for Prithviraj Chavan is to manage his alliance. How the Congress and the NCP work together, we will see in the future. There is a lot of factionalism in the Congress and he has to deal with that too. He has to work with everyone for the progress of the state and I congratulate him".

Seeking cooperation and support of all, Chavan said, "Congress party has always stood above petty interest and risen to the occasion in the interest of the party. I am sure the same thing will happen now."

He said he may go to Mumbai today and that he had spoken to NCP chief Sharad Pawar.

Backing Maharashtra's new chief minister, Sharad Pawar said,"Prithviraj is good, sober man. Hope he will do good work". (Read: Prithviraj is a good, sober man, says Pawar)

Why Prithviraj Chavan

With the name of leader after senior Congress leader cropping up in connection with the Adarsh Housing 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. His portfolios have been reallocated for now until the PM returns from his Seoul trip. Human Resource and Development Minister Kapil Sibal has got additional charge of Science and Technology. V Narayanasamy has got additional charge of Parliamentary Affairs. He is already a Minister of State Parliamentary Affairs.

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.

Who is Prithviraj Chavan

Prithviraj Chavan is 64 years old and comes from an old, loyal Congress family. He is a Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra, but has contested and won Lok Sabha elections in the past from Karad in Maharashtra. Both his parents were MPs from Karad and his mother was also a PCC chief. 

Chavan was educated at the prestigious BITS, Pilani in Rajasthan where he acquired a Design Engineering degree. He then went for higher studies to the University of California, Berkley, USA. After graduating, he worked in the aerospace industry in USA for a few years, before heading back to India to set up an R&D lab.

In the early eighties, Chavan met Rajiv Gandhi and joined politics. Gandhi gave Chavan a ticket to contest the 1984 elections from Karad and he won, even then in the face of the ire of local political satraps for having got easy access into the fray. Many more Lok Sabha wins followed.

Chavan became a Rajya Sabha MP in 2002. He has also been a Congress spokesman.

He describes himself as an Engineer, Industrialist, Political and Social Worker.

MLAs ask Sonia to pick next CM
On Tuesday, the Congress Legislative Party met in the evening to choose a leader and after confabulating for 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.

Ashok Chavan resigns

Earlier on Tuesday, Ashok Chavan's resignation, tendered on October 30, was finally accepted "pending full inquiry" by the Congress President. The party then accepted the resignation of another controversial leader, Suresh Kalmadi, from his post as Congress Parliamentary Party secretary.  As the man in charge of organizing the Commonwealth Games, Kalmadi and the deals he okayed have become totemic of financial violations.   (Read: Front-runners for Maharashtra Chief Minister) | (Read: Chavan, Kalmadi out, A Raja next?)

The BJP intended to use the Adarsh scam and the seemingly-ubiquitous corruption in the Commonwealth Games to attack the government. (Watch: Entire nation shamed, says Opposition)

The Congress clean-up came hours before the Winter Session of Parliament began.
The Adarsh Housing Society Scam

Investigations by the media suggest that politicians, retired Army officers and senior bureaucrats colluded to corner flats in a building in Colaba that was meant to provide discounted flats to war widows and veterans. Chavan admitted earlier this month that three of his relatives were allotted flats in the high-rise named Adarsh.

Adarsh was built without required environmental clearances. Two months ago, the Navy and Army also objected to the building on the grounds that it will give occupants a clear view of defence installations along Mumbai's coast.

Chavan was Revenue Minister when the Adarsh Society was sanctioned special benefits - he sanctioned its expansion to allow close to 30 additional flats by gifting to the building land reserved next door for a bus depot. Chavan was appointed Chief Minister in December 2008 after Vilasrao Deshmukh resigned after Mumbai's 26/11 terror attacks.

Chavan said that his government did not make any mistakes in permitting the construction. "In public life, one has to come clean on a number of things...for all the decisions taken by my predecessors and me, let the investigation be completed." 

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