Mumbai, March 26: Nearly two years after the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Maharashtra Congress finally seems to have found its new Maratha Mascot in Ashok Chavan.
After nail-biting suspense bordering on rebellion by Chavan, the Congress ultimately decided to bite the bullet and nominated him late Tuesday as its Nanded candidate for the Lok Sabha election.
This not only paves the way for the former chief minister’s political rehabilitation but also mollifies other potential rebels who could sour the party’s prospects in the elections next month.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reacted sharply to Chavan’s nomination with state Leader of Opposition in legislative council Vinod Tawade terming the move as “Congress support to corruption”.
Chavan, 55, resorted to near-arm twisting after his wife Ameeta Chavan-Sharma and a close aide filed their nominations, even as another senior party leader – scam-tainted Suresh Kalmadi – was angrily huffing and puffing away in Pune.
In Raigad, another stalwart and the party’s secular Muslim face, former state chief minister and union minister Abdul Rehman Antulay is also unhappy over various issues and making unpleasant noises, but party leaders hope to win him over soon.
While Kalmadi beat a tactical retreat at the last minute Tuesday, Congress strategists felt it more prudent to hug Chavan and give him a ticket to Lok Sabha.
After all, many in the party believe that Chavan is only plagued by a delible blot on his career – his role in the Adarsh Society scam – which would be erased in due course.
According to party sources, now there are moves to further strengthen Chavan’s future with a major responsibility. Maybe, the party’s chief campaign strategist, but top officials remain tight-lipped.
For the moment at least, the Congress is banking on Chavan’s political mettle to give results not only in Nanded but entire Marathwada region, proving his potential to fill the void left behind by Vilasrao Deshmukh’s death.
Given a free hand, many in Congress believe that Chavan, who kept quiet for the past nearly four years after he was forced to step down as chief minister, could be a valuable asset for the party in the Lok Sabha and the forthcoming assembly election.
“Even if Chavan does not campaign in Nanded, he can easily win given there in view of the enormous support he and his family enjoy there. So, he could be better deployed elsewhere in the region or state to boost the party prospects,” said a senior party leader, requesting anonymity.
Chavan is also considered capable of grappling the influence of top Maratha leaders of other parties like Nationalist Congress Party, BJP, Shiv Sena and also within Congress like the formidable Industry Minister Narayan Rane and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Taking over as the chief minister Dec. 8, 2008, in the wake of the ruthless 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, the business management post-graduate Chavan was expected to salvage the party image and manage the state’s political affairs in a crucial election year then. The year was 2009 when the Lok Sabha and the assembly election took place.
The rage over 26/11 notwithstanding, Congress managed to perform better than expected in both the parliamentary and assembly elections then, and formed the government at the centre and state that year.
All was apparently going well for the party until the Adarsh Society scam suddenly struck, claiming Chavan’s scalp in November 2010.
Although there were bigwigs also named in the scam, Chavan felt that he was made the sacrificial goat. Barring the occasional grunt, he kept a low-profile after sacrificing his post.