Even as the fate of Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, continues hanging in balance, another party strongman and a chief ministerial aspirant Narayan Rane has threatened to quit the Congress. In a communication of party high command, he has made it clear, that he will not accept anyone, other than former home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde as a replacement of Chavan. Rane’s threat came in the wake of reports that party was also looking for a Maratha face to go to assembly elections slated any time after August.
The credence was lent to speculations, after Social Justice Minister Shivajirao Moghe and Legislative Council chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh, met Sonia Gandhi as well as her political advisor Ahmed Patel and former defence minister AK Antony. Names of state ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil are also doing the rounds here as possible successors to Chavan.
Chavan was also in Delhi to lobby for his survival and told the Congress high command the uncertainty just before the Assembly election was not good for the party. Significantly, besides meeting Gandhi, the chief minister knocked the doors of President Pranab Mukherjee and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sources close to the chief minister described both the visits as "courtesy calls", but many Congress leaders at the headquarters here said it was a last ditch effort by Chavan to save his chair. Chavan had a good rapport with Manmohan Singh as he has worked as his deputy in the prime minister’s office (PMO), before departing to Maharashtra. The President, though aloof from party politics receives Congress leaders quite often and more so, when they are in difficult times.
Chavan also met Antony and Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad, before having a brief conversation with Gandhi, who is off to a week long foreign trip from Sunday. Party insiders say, she has authorised Azad and Antony to consult party legislatures in Maharashtra in coming days, to seek their views before engineering any change. Gandhi had also summoned Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also for consultations.
He is learnt to have explained to Mrs. Gandhi, the NCP’s "machinations" against him. Insiders said, the Congress president indicated to Chavan that there were complaints against him. Chavan said he had conveyed to the leadership that the atmosphere of uncertainty needed to end. "We need to get clarity soon," he said.
Sources further said the general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, Mohan Prakash, too was earnestly trying to save Chavan’s chair. Like the chief minister, Prakash is under fire from state MLAs who want him also replaced. With just two seats in the Lok Sabha election to show for and the MLAs unhappy with him, there are many in the Congress baying for the blood of Chavan. Over past few days, Mrs. Gandhi kept the general secretaries incharge of these states also out of loop. She is preferring to go by the advice of the senior party leaders than to depend upon them.
A section of Congress leaders questions his replacement at this eleventh hour, when the elections are round the corner. They believe that the replacement will hardly save them from the ignominy of defeat staring at them in the forthcoming assembly elections. But another section want to fight out the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. And therefore, want a fresh face to lead them in the battle. They believe even if Chavan is now allowed to stay and lead the party in the election, the debilitating impact of this episode will continue to haunt the state government.(ends)