Soon after this Diwali, a senior bureaucrat made a cryptic statement, saying that it had been a 'clean Diwali' for the 'clean government'. Asked to explain the obscure allusion, he laughed and said, 'This was proved by the fact that Varsha, Chavan's official residence at Malabar Hill, hardly saw any visitors this Diwali.' The bungalow was squeaky clean, he quipped. Every year during Diwali, 'well-wishers' throng the bungalow, to greet the CM with gifts: the serpentine queue outside his abode mostly comprise builders, contractors, suppliers and their ilk, who bear expensive offerings, in hope that they can win abundant favours from the CM and his cabinet on a later occasion.
How did all that change this year? Why did the halls at Varsha wear a desolate look, divested of the throngs of 'supporters'? Chavan, also known as Mr Clean, seems to have emanated a strong 'no-tolerance vibe' for expensive gifts, which are more-or-less gift-wrapped bribes.
On November 11, the Chavan-led government will complete one year in office. This is quite an achievement, given the scam-scarred political ambience in Maharashtra, ridden with instability. Critics are lying in wait, to raise questions about what the government has achieved, or failed to achieve in this year. For these nay-sayers, the achievements of a non-corrupt and honestly-run government, which is working relentlessly to weed out corruption, holds no meaning.
These critics may choose to forget that the CM, in his year in office, has scrapped many controversial SRA projects, which could well have added thousands of crores to the state kitty. Add to that his attempts to read the fine print in files, set parameters for matters of public interest, cut down on personal favours proffered, encourage transparency by implementing a system that includes e-tendering, third party audit. He didn't even hesitate to scrap the inefficient board of an apex body like the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank. As Chavan himself has said in the past, these insistent voices of criticism emanate from a section of people who want to be allowed to bend the rules to serve their convenience, and a leader at the chair who will allow the rules to be bent.
The slew of rumours and bad publicity surrounding Chavan, in spite of his squeaky clean ways, suggests that that there are many ill-wishers eager to send Chavan packing. And had Chavan not been scrupulous with paperwork and painstakingly careful with all his administrative decisions, he would definitely have shared the fate of his predecessor.
But a word of caution for Mr CM, who still takes considerable time to clear files that don't merit that much thought or debate. If he doesn't speed up the process, he might invite even more criticism. Chavan must make the most of the excellent rapport he shares with Manmohan Singh and the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, to put Maharashtra back on the path to progress and prosperity. Chavan must also remember that he has more foes in the ruling party than in the Opposition.
The biggest hurdle that lies ahead for the Chavan-led government is the looming elections to the civic and local bodies. The Congress' ally NCP, led by the ambitious Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, may well try to turn the tables on him, as he had grand plans for the 2014 general elections. Any failure suffered by the Congress may have a direct effect on Chavan's performance.