Enemy in the backyard

Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan seems to have more 'enemies' in his backyard than he has in the opposition. After all, when the state's principal opposition parties -- BJP, Shiv Sena and MNS - have not confronted him or sought his removal, his Congress colleagues are often seen discussing his future.

So far, Chavan, who came to Mumbai with the blessings of 10, Janpath, has been ignoring the gossip. In fact, in a freewheeling interview with this newspaper recently, he seemed confident that he would be able to push his agenda through with his colleagues despite their belligerence. He also knows that his honeymoon period is over (he took office on November 11 last year).

Brace yourself: Chavan may seem sincere in his effort to restore the
image of the state, but his party colleagues have maintained a studied
distance from him

Not surprisingly, his Democratic Front colleagues have begun questioning his performance in a hush-hush manner. The questions are about the speed of decision making, filling up of key posts in the administration, action over the demands made by ministers, MPs and MLAs to ensure that the party performs well in the forthcoming polls for civic bodies. Chavan also faces crucial demands by Congressmen over appointments to state-run boards, corporations and public enterprises, and filling up of three ministerial berths in the cabinet.

Most importantly, but perhaps not interestingly, his Congress colleagues seem to be dragging their feet in ensuring a clean and transparent administration, something that he has been promising for nearly a year (he came to the state in the wake of the Adarsh Society scandal). For instance, his decision to rein in the all-powerful builders' lobby has not been appreciated by his own party just as his vision for Mumbai by clearing the present mess in BMC.

He recently decided to seek a monthly report from each department with details such as its available budget with monthly utilisation, flagship schemes with progress of the 20-point programme, performance in key result areas (KRAs), major development related with the department, and the crime rate of the preceding month, progress report on police modernisation, etc. He has sought these details for a monthly report to be submitted to the governor which will be later forwarded to the President.  

This, too, has ruffled some feathers. Chavan seemingly accords top priority for long term measures over the short term gains. Now, he has also decided to generate more funds for the state by hiking the lease rent of the government land in Mumbai and elsewhere. Today the lessee pays a paltry sum to government towards the yearly lease rent. But the rent hike will add substantial funds to the state kitty enabling the government to kick start projects in public interest.

But, such efforts will fail to yield positive impact if Chavan fails to speed up the process of making crucial appointments such as one on the State Planning Board. He has not been able to nominate three non-official members from his party quota to the state board for the last five months, despite the fact that the body has become dysfunctional and has not been able to start working on the next five year plan. Also, the recent ACB trap at Mantralaya in which a personal assistant (PA) of senior Congress minister Rajendra Darda was caught red-handed while accepting bribe has proved to be a major embarrassment the government.

Chavan may seem sincere in his effort to restore the image of the state, but his party colleagues have maintained a studied distance from the "reformist" chief minister; even opposed him, as was evident when a group of Mumbai MLAs opposed BMC commissioner Subodh Kumar's decision to levy a premium for the FSI used for podiums, balconies and flower beds.  His follies, as discussed by his own party men, certainly offer a different picture given the backdrop of Chavan's decision to not entertain personal favours and discourage attempts to follow files, proposals, and bureaucratic transfers of personal interest. It is therefore noteworthy that the Opposition appears silent and his own party colleagues are baying for his blood. Something's just does not seem right.

Ravikiran Deshmukh is MiD DAY's political editor

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