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Chavan, the lonely long-distance runner

The fierce ongoing battle between political parties for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections may certainly have amused many in the state capital who have been closely keeping an eye on political developments. Never before has the pre-election battle been so dramatic and vicious, never has the tension reached such a crescendo of anticipation, never has the urge and urgency to put an end to the Shiv Sena-BJP combine been so desperate.

The two political stalwarts spearheading this quest for the BMC are the Chief Minister and Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan, and an equally keen NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, a former CM. Chavan's resolve is remarkable, as it sets him apart from his predecessors, who have shied away from rocking the boat with the territorial Sena since 1985, with the exception of a short interlude between 1992 and 1997, when Congress held the reins. But Chavan's ferocity has etched him out as a determined man, who is pulling out all the stops in his race for the BMC. 

On the other hand, Pawar's decision to lead the fight against Sena from the front has surprised many, as he has always appeared to be a kind of saviour for the Sena, despite his open loathing for Shiv Sena's incumbent president Uddhav Thackeray.

Chavan certainly belongs to a different breed of Congress leaders - he took on the mighty builders' lobby, powerful Opposition parties like Shiv Sena and his party's own alliance partner NCP. This has even cost him the devotion and allegiance of his own party men, many of whom have suffered due to Chavan's steely resolve not to entertain the irrational demands of the builders and contractors in the city. The fact that many politicians have high stakes in the construction industry is Mumbai's worst kept secret. So Chavan's foes, both inside and outside his bastion, far outnumber his friends.

Not many from the Congress are visible in the battle for the BMC, and this has invited mixed reactions. Not many prominent faces were visible for the Congress-NCP joint rally at Bandra on Thursday, where Chavan and Pawar delivered addresses. Many other such incidents in the recent past have made it evident that Chavan's decision to rein in the builders' lobby and his refusal to toe his party colleagues' line has disturbed many. If a senior leader from AICC is to be believed, Chavan has said that he will not submit to the powerful builders' lobby or the politicians who support them, directly or indirectly.

The same leader whispered that the builders have practically been running the show in Mumbai. If this is true, then the state politicians, who are biting their nails in anxiety to send Chavan back, should think twice. havan's decision to appoint Subodh Kumar as the BMC commissioner was also a calculated one, and despite several complaints and comments against him, Chavan ensured his extension for three months.

Chavan's calculated risk to take on the Thackerays head-on is enough to raise many eyebrows, as not one from the current lot would dare to tread in his footsteps. All the Congress CMs, except Chavan, have been sympathetic towards Shiv Sena. Their rhetoric against the saffron party has been barely audible. The same goes for prominent NCP leaders, who have never exercised their vocal chords against the Sena much. Similarly, it's not a coincidence that the Sena is not that active as an Opposition in constituencies represented by all the front-line leaders of Maharashtra.

Chavan's stern reactions and unhesitating criticism of NCP is one of the risks that displeased his government ally. Despite a snub by Sharad Pawar, he still insists that the NCP was born out of the personal ambition of a few, and Pawar's decision to break away from the Congress has dealt a heavy blow to the state. He has also reminded Deputy CM Ajit Pawar that it is the CM who decides departmental policies or allocation of funds. Thus, Chavan has challenged all the powers-that-be, and one only needs to wait and watch to find out the outcome of this risk. It will be interesting to see if he wins against all the odds and the foes surrounding him. But, this man has nothing to lose, as he is walking along the lines etched out by his bosses in Delhi, who have, despite complaints against him, not asked him to bend the rules he has laid down.

With all the front-runners of the Congress Party mired in various controversies and land scams, Chavan has no one to give him competition for his chair. A statement he made during an interview with this newspaper captures his individual manifesto: "Our three-four CMs have had to quit amidst controversies over one thing or another. So, our party bosses decided to provide a stable government to steer clear the party image."

-- The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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