When Prithviraj Chavan was appointed on November 11, 2010 by the Congress high command as chief minister, the only factor in his favour was that he had a Mr Clean image. The image of the Congress party was badly tarnished by the Adarsh scam. The then chief minister Ashok Chavan was caught with his hand in the jar of cookies following disclosures that several of his relatives were granted membership in the controversial housing society as a quid pro quo for Ashok Chavan’s approval for the project.
Maharashtra is a politically important state since it has as many as 48 seats in the Lok Sabha and hence the Congress leadership in Delhi did not want to take a chance. It promptly dumped Ashok Chavan and replaced him with Prhtiviraj Chavan, since he had a clean image.
There were many factors which were against Prihtiviraj Chavan. He had no political base in Maharashtra; he had no connect with Congressmen in the state and was not known much in the corporate circles of Mumbai and Pune. Yet, he was handpicked for the crucial post by the Congress’ central leadership because of his image. But now, Prithviraj Chavan appears to be losing his only USP.
His flip-flop over the Adarsh housing scam has shredded his image. He assumed office when the scam was at its peak. His quick response to the controversy was to appoint a judicial commission headed by a retired judge of Bombay High Court, JH Patil, who was known for his integrity. The appointment of the commission was welcomed since it was expected that the probe would unearth the facts of the scam. However, Chavan shocked all by refusing to make the report public.
It was only after a PIL was filed in the HC that he moved in the matter. He placed the report, which had indicted several politicians and bureaucrats, before the legislature on the last day of the winter session so that a debate can be avoided. He made it clear that his government has rejected it. He majorly spoiled his own image.
In a damage-control exercise, he summoned a group of journalists soon after the session ended and made it known that he was personally not happy with the rejection of the report! But sources in the cabinet said it was the CM who suggested that the report be rejected. After a few days, when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi stated that he did not concur with the state cabinet’s decision, the CM did yet another flip-flop and announced that he would review the earlier decision (to reject the report). He once again did a somersault of sorts by stating that the cabinet has “partially” accepted the report.
And the damage to his image was complete. The opposition said Prithviraj Chavan is no different from his predecessors like Ashok Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh et al. It was expected that the Congress would enter the battle for the LS polls, which will take place in a few months’ time with Mr Clean at the helm. Now, the party has lost that advantage. The moral high ground which Chavan occupied has been lost. No one is talking about the slew of bold decisions he took — cleaning up the state cooperative bank which had become a den of corruption and political patronage, regulating the real estate industry and standing up to NCP Sharad Pawar. With his USP gone, Prithviraj Chavan can hardly be the poster boy for the polls.