M A I N   N E W S

Prithviraj Chavan in the saddle 
Mr Clean is also green in state politics and faces a tough task ahead as the new chief minister
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, November 10
Weighed down under charges of corruption, the Congress today took a conscious decision to pick minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan - known for his clean and efficient image - as the next Maharashtra chief minister.

Chavan takes over the top job in Maharashtra from Ashok Chavan who was asked to resign following his involvement in the unseemly Adarsh Housing Society scam. The swearing-in is slated for tomorrow.

Seen as an outsider in Maharashtra politics, having spent all his time at the Centre after a chance meeting with Rajiv Gandhi brought him into politics in 1991, he was deemed a potential CM for the past several years.

A US-educated engineer, Chavan (64) is credited with selling the PM’s initiative over the nuclear deal to Sonia Gandhi. A known Sharad Pawar-baiter, he had lost his Karad Lok Sabha seat to the NCP in 1999. And soon after the announcement of his name as the next CM, it was made public that Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar would be the Deputy Chief Minister. While both Pawar and Chavan denied having any political rivalry and differences, an intense turf war is seen by many as a foregone conclusion.

Although there were several contenders for this post, the choices before the Congress leadership were limited as the other two contenders, Union ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde, were also involved in the multi-crore Mumbai housing scandal. Keen to stamp out the growing public perception that the Congress is turning a blind eye to corruption scandals, party president Sonia Gandhi was constrained to name a person who did not come with any baggage.

Chavan fit the bill in this respect. What clinched matters for Chavan is that he is a Maratha, the caste which dominates Maharashtra politics.

The PM was reluctant to let him ago since he has emerged as a reliable interface between the PMO and 10, Janpath over the past six years. The fact that he was given charge of the important department of personnel and grievances, including the CBI, further affirms that he was a ‘trustworthy’ minister.

Chavan’s name was announced by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, today after a brief meeting with Sonia Gandhi, who had been authorised by the Maharashtra Congress MLAs to choose Ashok Chavan’s successor. Since the PM was to leave for Seoul for the G-20 meeting, the necessary paperwork had to be completed to put an alternative arrangement in place at the Centre before his departure. Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal was temporarily entrusted with the charge of ministries of science and technology and earth sciences which were held independently by Chavan.

Chavan has also the advantage of hailing from an old political family loyal to the Congress-- both his parents were MPs from Karad and his mother Premlata Chavan was the PCC chief.

The 64-year-old chief minister designate, who specialised in aerospace engineering in the US and designed audio recorders for anti-submarine warfare before returning to India in 1974, has also been an entrepreneur. He has been a Rajya Sabha member since 2002, not having contested the Lok Sabha election since 1999.

In his favour

z Has a PG degree in engineering from Berkley

z Enjoys the image of being ‘Mr Clean’

z Enjoys the confidence of both the PM and Sonia

z Is affable and low-key and prefers consensus

z Experienced in handling Haryana, J & K party affairs

z An MP since 1991 and as Union minister held independent charge of several departments

Obstacles Ahead

z Is perceived an outsider in state politics

z Has been a known Sharad Pawar-baiter

z Maharashtra Congress and NCP are both minefields

z Has to contend with an ambitious Ajit Pawar

z Has to deal with scams and corruption in government

z With both he and Pawar hailing from western Maharashtra, will have to pay attention to other regions.





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