Dharmendra Jore: A tale of two presidents

Whether it’s Ashok Chavan in the Congress’ state unit, or Sanjay Nirupam in the Mumbai division, both face challenges not from rivals outside but within the party

Times change, and how. Congressmen Ashok Chavan and Sanjay Nirupam will vouch for this.

Chavan had been riding smoothly as the Maharashtra Congress president until the BJP government had him trapped again in the Adarsh housing scam last week. The Cabinet advised the governor to allow the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) to prosecute the former chief minister, who had to quit office five years ago in the wake of the scam allegations.

On the other hand, Nirupam was facing uncertainty as the president of the Mumbai unit in the past month. On Saturday, he was officially given a reprieve in the recent magazine controversy in which the party’s mouthpiece ran injudicious articles on Congress icons Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and current party chief Sonia Gandhi. Relieved, at least for now, the leader has set his sight on next year’s Mumbai municipal polls, which Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wants him to win. A tough ask, indeed.

Both leaders face challenges, not from rival outfits, but from within the Congress.

Chavan is under pressure from adversaries who are lobbying with the party high command to have him removed. The same leaders who did not dare take up the task of leading the Maharashtra Congress after the unprecedented whitewash at the hands of the Narendra Modi-led BJP, are now eager to don the mantle. Chavan’s primary task is to save his current position as others eye his turf in view of BJP’s fading magic that will make their work in opposition much easier.

Chavan’s ouster five years ago, say his supporters, was the handiwork of some senior Congress leaders. In both the Adarsh exposé and subsequent cases initiated by the defence department, the internal tussle between two senior Congress ministers in Delhi is said to be the reason behind putting the CBI in charge of investigations. Former CM Chavan’s strained relations with one of his Congress predecessors was also seen as one of the reasons for him allegedly being framed in the case. Those very leaders who were active in building pressure on Chavan to quit as CM, once again seek to topple him as Maharashtra chief.

Even the reason the Adarsh ghost has returned to haunt Chavan, is not just the BJP but also the Congress-appointed K Sankaranarayanan, who as the then governor, had denied CBI permission to prosecute Chavan, though he was named as the 13th accused in the case. This was done without consulting the state council of ministers. Sankaranarayanan had argued that he did not consult the ministers because he did not expect them to give an unbiased opinion because most of them had worked under Chavan.

One wonders if Sankaranarayanan was sure that the ministers would allow Chavan’s prosecution. This is one argument that the current government has taken into consideration in reviewing the earlier decision. The additional findings that the Adarsh judicial inquiry commission report made available against Chavan may have come as an excuse to revive Chavan’s trouble.

In Mumbai, working from his Azad Maidan office, Nirupam has nothing to lose at this point in time. Failure in the BMC polls may not damage his political standing much, since many senior Congress leaders had not been able to achieve what he has been asked to accomplish now – to put Congress in charge of the BMC. The Congress could not gain power in Mumbai even when it held a strong position countrywide. And in case the party finishes second or third in the polls, he has a ready excuse — non-cooperation from other mighty leaders.

Whatever the outcome be – in all likelihood it is going to be a Shiv Sena-BJP battle – Congressmen expect Nirupam, an ex-Shiv Sainik, to make a show of loyalty to the Gandhi Family to protect his seat as long as possible. After all, it was Rahul’s ultimate call that saved the former journalist’s unceremonious exit that some angry party veterans had on their minds.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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