Congress president Sonia Gandhi's open defence of the party's decision to grant a ticket to Ashok Chavan has not only given a boost to the controversial former CM, but also spells trouble for CM Prithviraj Chavan. This is because Ashok Chavan commands the support of at least 45 of the 82 Congress MLAs in the state and he is likely to stake his claim to the chief minister's post after the Lok Sabha elections are over.
The assembly elections are due in October and Ashok Chavan would like to reoccupy the CM's post to vindicate his honour.
Ashok Chavan had told dna that great injustice was done to him by asking him to step down as CM in the wake of the Adarsh scam. He said two "principal lies" with regard to the scam had been nailed by the judicial commission appointed by the state government. "The commission has categorically affirmed that the land on which the Adarsh building was built belonged to the state government and not to the defence ministry. Also, the panel had firmly concluded that the land was not reserved for Kargil widows. Vested interests had spread lies about these two crucial issues even as I was shouting from the rooftops that the land belonged to the state and it was not reserved for Kargil widows. I have been vindicated by the commission," he said.
BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, however, noted that the commission had found a nexus between Ashok Chavan's decisions in favour of Adarsh and the allotment of flats in the society to his family members. Sources close to Ashok Chavan said: "The issue of quid pro quo was rendered irrelevant by the surrender of these flats by the relatives to the society." However, legal experts say the issue of criminality and quid pro quo is yet to be decided by the courts and to that extent, Ashok Chavan cannot claim that he has been given a clean chit.
Ever since he was pitchforked into the CM's chair more than three years ago by the Congress central leadership, Prithviraj Chavan hardly had any challenger to the throne from within the Congress. His predecessor, Ashok Chavan, was busy battling the Adarsh controversy. The CM systematically set about marginalising Ashok Chavan politically by brandishing the Adarsh card. But governor K Sankaranarayanan's refusal to grant sanction to the CBI to prosecute Ashok Chavan has virtually put the lid firmly on the controversy as far Ashok Chavan is concerned.
Congress MP Hussain Dalwai said: "Ashok Chavan has a strong political base in Marathwada and he can be expected to provide effective leadership all over the state. He is an important leader against whom false allegations were levelled. The party has done the right thing by fielding him for the LS polls from his home district, Nanded. I am certain he will win with a thumping margin." Congress spokesperson Anant Gadgil too endorsed Sonia Gandhi's decision. "Ashok has not been convicted in any case and hence, it is legally and politically correct to give him a party ticket to contest the polls," he said.
Sources in the Congress said Ashok Chavan's strategy was to get himself elected with an impressive margin and at the same time, support other nominees of the party so that these MPs can provide a strong lobby for him in New Delhi. Interestingly, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi let Ashok Chavan share the dais with him at recent election meetings much to the discomfiture of Prithviraj Chavan.
Many feel that irrespective of the outcome of the parliamentary polls, a change of guard in Maharashtra is necessary if the party is to retain power in the ensuing assembly elections. "Prithviraj Chavan has the Mr Clean image, but the need is of an administration which can take fast decisions," a Congress minister observed.