The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed former chief minister Ashok Chavan's plea and asked the Election Commission to complete its inquiry into alleged irregularities in the accounts of election expenses filed by him within 45 days.
The court also asked the commission to take action against him, if needed. Monday's ruling is a big setback for Chavan who is eyeing to make a comeback in active politics by winning the Lok Sabha polls from the Nanded constituency.
BJP leaders have accused Chavan of giving several paid advertisements in newspapers during the state legislative assembly elections in 2009. When he showed only Rs11,000 as expenses towards various advertisements, his opponent, Dr Madhav Kinhalkar (Independent) filed a case against him for misrepresenting facts.
Kinhalkar accused him of hiding expenses on paid news in a local daily when he filed details of election expenses before the commission.
The commission passed an order in 2010 when Chavan challenged the notice issued to him on the complaint alleging inaccuracy in the account of election expenses submitted by him. At the time of lodging of the complaints with the commission, Chavan was chief minister.
Not replying to the notice, Chavan challenged the commission's jurisdiction to go into the correctness or falsity of the account of his election expenses before the high court, which dismissed his petition in 2011.
After the high court ruled that the EC has the jurisdiction to look into allegations of paid news, Chavan challenged it in the Supreme Court.
Chavan was removed from the Maharashtra chief minister's post in 2010 after his name surfaced in the Adarsh housing scam. He apparently got a couple of flats in the Adarsh building in his relatives' names.
A government official said if Chavan wins the Lok Sabha polls and is found guilty in the paid news inquiry, he may be disqualified immediately as an MP. "Also, he will be barred from contesting elections for the next three years. It is bound to have serious repercussion on Chavan's political career," the official said.
But what does Chavan has to say?
He told dna on Monday that people have misunderstood the matter. "They are making a mountain out of a molehill. I have done nothing wrong so I am not worried about the consequences," he said. "I respect the Supreme Court verdict. The court has just extended the EC's jurisdiction. When asked about paid news, I will put forth my arguments and facts before the EC."
Chavan aides are rattled with the court ruling because they are sure of his victory from Nanded. "The opposition did not have any issue in hand against Chavan. So, they are blowing this out of proportion. But nothing will happen. Chavan will come out unscathed," said one of his close aides.
Political observers say if incumbent chief minister Prithviraj Chavan fails to get the maximum Lok Sabha seats for his party, the Congress high command might replace him with another Chavan [Ashok].
"The Congress desperately needs a leader with a strong mass base who can bring the party out of the leadership crisis and ensure victory in the assembly polls," an observer said. "But if Ashok Chavan is proved guilty in the paid news investigations, it will permanently end his political career."