The time to act is now
Almost 10 months after Prithviraj Chavan assumed the office of Maharashtra chief minister, enumerating his achievements can be tough. On November 11, 2010 when Chavan became the chief minister, fresh from a long stint in the Prime Minister's Office and with backing from the Congress high command, there were great expectations from a state reeling from the Adarsh Society scandal.
Today, Chavan's tenure has turned out to be a bit like that of US President Barack Obama - high on promise, low on delivery. And both Chavan and Obama have spent an enormous amount of time doing just the same thing - clearing the mess left behind by their predecessors leaving them little or no time for large-scale reform or institution-building.
Not the time to be laughing: CM Chavan's (right) tenure has been low
Therefore, even if there are doubts raised about the credentials of the recent WikiLeaks document about political leadership in Maharashtra, we cannot ignore that there is more than a modicum of truth in it. The leaked cables, sent a year after the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, said: "By all accounts, Maharashtra has lacked good political leadership for almost two decades. The last ten years of Congress/NCP rule has been marked by an inability to implement major development or infrastructure programmes."
You could doubt the cables because Maharashtra is still a leading state when it comes to foreign direct investment or industrial development, but it is also true that the rate of growth has suffered in comparison to other states such as Gujarat and Delhi. And there has been almost a deathly silence on reforms.
For instance, it's been over six months since the announcement that the state will have a new Industrial, Investment and Infrastructure Policy (IIIP). The old policy, framed in 2006 and in operation from 2007, was to lapse on June 30 this year, but has been extended twice - first until August 31 and now, until November 30.
The CM has been told by his advisors that the new policy is stuck in the Mantralaya bureaucratic web because the state has no industry secretary. Following Aziz M Khan's voluntary retirement in July this year, the department is run by MIDC CEO, K Shivaji.
To further dampen the investment scenario in the state, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) has decided to hike the rates of industrial plots. Other key positions such as that of the vice-chairman and of the managing director of CIDCO,are laying vacant for the last few months.
You could explain the inaction by saying he is a politically weak chief minister. But that is not the case. Chavan has been standing up to his party men -- most of them senior -- who have privately criticised him for reviewing Slum Rehabilitation Authority's (SRA) real estate projects that were sanctioned using controversial Section 3K of the SRA Act. He has antagonised the powerful builder lobby by reviewing their proposals and signing them with abundant caution and, therefore, delaying projects.
Now, juxtapose the same circumstances when it comes to reform in every other sector. The results could be disastrous for the state, even if his intentions are noble. Therefore, perhaps, it is time for him - and the Congress Party - to take a decisive stand on what the CM's role in Maharashtra's should be. Should he concentrate on creating the perception of a clean administration given that the demons of the previous government refuse to go away, or should he concentrate on development in the state by tilting in favour of industry and developers?
It is true that Chavan is bogged down by coalition politics, and, it is more than evident that, to the Congress, the NCP is more of a necessary evil than a true friend. Moreover, his own party colleagues in government are said to be "close to New Delhi". Chavan is a man surrounded, nay, almost bound, by dilemmas. Since none of his party colleagues has the political spine to take on Sharad Pawar's NCP, led in the state by his nephew and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. Ajit Pawar has been busy making inroads in Congress bastions across the state. NCP's mandate for the next assembly elections seems to be clear -- fight solo. In such a tough environment, Chavan needs to emerge stronger -- not with any support from 10, Janpath, but on his own. To cut a long story short, Chavan needs to be his own man.
Ravikiran Deshmukh is MiD DAY's political editor