Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar made a shocking revelation in the city on Friday by disclosing that the Congress high command had decided to remove Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan besides the chief ministers of two other states. However, he said he had nothing to do with the decision, nor had he recommended a replacement.
A Congress leader from Delhi on anonymity told Dna that ex-CM Ashok Chavan was a front-runner in the search for a replacement and several meetings had been held in this regard.
Pawar said there would be a change in leadership in three states – Maharashtra, Assam and Mizoram. His statement comes just after a series of meetings he had earlier this week with senior Congress leaders A K Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad in New Delhi. "Changing their chief ministers is an internal matter of the Congress. I have nothing to do with it. I have neither demanded a change in Maharashtra, nor have I recommended anyone's name for the CM's post." He also said that a reshuffle and expansion of the state cabinet "will take place soon".
Sources said that the Congress central leadership will deploy its observers in that state soon to meet party MLAs and ensure a smooth regime change. Several Congress leaders had called on party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi after the Lok Sabha elections and warned them of a repeat rout in the assembly polls if Chavan was not eased out. Dna had reported about the impending change of guard on Thursday.
The campaign to remove Chavan gained momentum last week, soon after a meeting he had with Pawar in Mumbai.
At this meeting, Pawar asked him to speed up the decision-making process, approve various pending projects on a war footing and resolve the Local Body Tax (LBT) issue immediately. "It will pacify the people and reduce their anger against the Congress-NCP alliance. These moves will help us regain public support ahead of the state assembly polls. Otherwise, both NCP and Congress will be again wiped out in the state polls," Pawar had told Chavan.
Sources said Pawar had also pointed out to Chavan that one should not leave decision-making to bureaucrats. "The people have elected us to take decisions," he told on Chavan during the three-hour-long meeting at Sahyadri guest house.
However, Chavan's response to his suggestions were allegedly far from encouraging, which upset the NCP leader. It was after this disappointing meeting that Pawar decided to take up the issue with the Congress leadership in New Delhi. He was concerned that if Chavan continued to be at the helm, history would repeat itself and both the NCP and the Congress would fare poorly in the assembly polls. He categorically told Congress leaders that the NCP will not fight the election under Chavan's leadership. If the Congress wanted to continue the alliance with the NCP, then Chavan should be immediately removed.
Sources close to Chavan, however, claim that it was his refusal to clear certain files relating to a big builder that has angered certain persons.
Pawar's contention was that in a crisis situation, the government should be headed by a dynamic leader who can take the bold decisions and put the Opposition on the defensive.
After Pawar's indication, the Congress high-command started meeting with senior state leaders to understand their views. "However, most of the state Congress leaders joined Pawar's chorus and demanded a change of leadership. There were a series of meetings between Pawar and Antony and Ahmad Patel, the trusted aide of Sonia Gandhi to finalise the new name of Maharashtra chief minister.
"Pawar suggested former union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde. Shinde is very close and loyal to the Gandhi family. Other names are also making the rounds includes ex-CM Ashok Chavan, state agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat and industries minister Narayan Rane. However, Shinde is a clear front- runner and his name is almost finalised," a senior Congress leader from Delhi told dna requested anonymity.
"In the cabinet reshuffle. we have decided to drop a few ministers whose performance is quite poor and have decided to add new and young faces in state cabinet that will give a boost to our cadre."