M A I N   N E W S

Sonia gets tough, axes Chavan, Kalmadi
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, November 9
A pre-emptive strike by Congress president Sonia Gandhi today blunted the opposition campaign on probity in public life and sent out a tough message to the party rank and file that corruption will not be tolerated.

Soon after President Barack Obama bowed and flew out of India at 8.45 am, and even before Parliament assembled for the winter session, she cracked the whip and ‘accepted’ the resignations of Ashok Chavan as Maharashtra Chief Minister and of Suresh Kalmadi as secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party.

In a coordinated action, Defence Minister A.K. Antony ordered a CBI inquiry into the Mumbai housing scam, which the Army Chief said ‘has shamed the Army’ and in which Chavan is accused of having played a part.

While Kalmadi, accused of corruption in organising the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, was conspicuous by his absence in Parliament, Chavan brazened it out in Mumbai. After tendering his resignation, he told the media that he still enjoyed the confidence of the party president and that the probe would find him innocent of any wrongdoing in the Adarsh Housing Society scam.

The Congress is also hoping that its move will pressurise the DMK into taking similar action against telecommunications minister A.Raja,whose involvement in the 2G spectrum scam has embarrassed Prime Minister Minister Manmohan Singh but who is helpless in taking action against an alliance partner.

When the Congress president and other senior party leaders maintained a studied silence on the issue of corruption in their speeches at last week’s AICC meeting, it had appeared that Ashok Chavan may get off with a mild reprimand. But the Congress president’s decision to ask senior leaders, A.K.Antony and Pranab Mukherjee, to probe the allegations against Chavan for his involvement in the housing scam in which three of his close relatives got flats, turned out to be a ploy to buy time in view of US president Barack Obama’s impending visit.

Congress leaders exulted, “We now have the upper hand... we can turn around and tell the opposition that we took action against our own chief minister even before the conclusion of the official enquiry.”

“It also shows the leadership’s zero tolerance on corruption,” said another party leader, adding that it will now allow the Congress to pin down the BJP on the recent Karnataka developments where huge sums of money are alleged to have changed hands to ensure the survival of the Yedyurappa government. Party insiders said it had become imperative to take quick action against Chavan and Kalmadi as there is a growing public perception that Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were privy to these acts of corruption but were helpless in acting against those involved.

The Mumbai housing scam is a particularly touchy issue as reports indicate that the land was allocated for families of Kargil martyrs but was cornered by others. “The Kargil war has a special resonance among the people which could not be ignored,” said a Congress leader, who recalled their campaign against former defence minister George Fernandes in the Kargil coffin scam.

The party was constrained to act against Suresh Kalmadi as it could hardly ignore the strong public sentiment against him which was evident during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games when Kalmadi was jeered by the spectators. Congress leaders said since it is not possible to remove him from the presidentship of the Indian Olympic Association (which is an autonomous organisation), Kalmadi was axed from the lone party post he holds to send out a signal to him and others.





Jockeying on for CM’s post
Prithviraj Chavan, Mukul Wasnik, Balasaheb Thorat in the reckoning
Shiv Kumar/TNS

Mumbai, November 9
Hectic political activity is on in Mumbai to choose the successor to Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. With senior party leader Rahul Gandhi insisting on choosing a person with a clean image, a number of new names are being thrown up for the job.

Apart from perennial favourites like Prithviraj Chavan and Mukul Wasnik, the name of state agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat surfaced as a contender today. Thorat enjoys the support of former Chief Minister and current Union Minister for Heavy Industries Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Meanwhile, the Congress Legislature Party in Maharashtra tonight authorised AICC president Sonia Gandhi to choose a new leader to succeed Ashok Chavan. The resolution was moved by the outgoing CM.

Deshmukh himself has been ruled out of the race because of his own association with the Adarsh Housing Society.

Another leader with a clean image is Mukul Wasnik who rose from the ranks as a student leader. Wasnik, a Dalit, hails from Vidarbha and is said to be close to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Sources say leaders like Narayan Rane and even Sushil Kumar Shinde may be out of the race for the post of Chief Minister. During his earlier reign in Maharashtra, Shinde had cleared some of the Adarsh proposals though he himself had not recommended any name for a flat, sources say. However Wasnik and Chavan are seen as weaker leaders who may not be able to take on Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, which is allied with the Congress in the state.



Sonia authorised to choose Chavan’s successor

Mumbai, November 9
The Congress Legislature Party (CLP) in Maharashtra tonight authorised AICC President Sonia Gandhi to choose a new Chief Minister to succeed Ashok Chavan, who resigned from the post in the wake of Adarsh Housing Society scam.

"The CLP met and adopted a resolution authorising and requesting the Congress president to choose the next leader of the Congress Legislature Party," senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee told reporters here.

Mukherjee, who was one of the two central party observers along with AK Antony deputed by the Congress high command to the CLP meeting, said, "We had some interaction with individual MLAs, who wanted to give their views. Most of them have stated that whatever the high command will decide, they will accept it."

"Some of them (MLAs) have said 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," said Mukherjee.

The central observers said they would apprise the Congress president of the sentiments of the legislators and the new leader would be announced after holding consultations with her.

Addressing the meeting Antony and Mukherjee described the controversy over the housing scam, in which Chavan faced charges of nepotism in allotment of flats, as "unfortunate", said sources.

They said the two leaders told the CLP that Chavan's resignation was keeping in with the party's high moral values and tradition. The resolution authorising Gandhi to choose the new leader was moved by the outgoing CM and seconded by Revenue Minister Narayan Rane, Legislative Council chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh and former CM Shivajirao Patil-Nilangekar, said the party sources. Congress central observers Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony attended the CLP meeting at Vidhan Bhavan in south Mumbai. — PTI



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