What has Maharashtra achieved in the last three years — November 11, 2010 to November 11, 2013 — under Prithviraj Chavan? This question may not elicit a tangible reply from the common man - because he is a farmer, a labourer, or a middle-class person who is finding it difficult to manage his expenses due to inflation. These segments of society are crucial and help run the system. And this chunk does not speak well about the Congress-NCP government. A recent incident at Yavatmal corroborates this, where farmers showed their anger and frustration during the CM’s rally. These farmers weren’t led by a particular party.
In a large democratic setup, it’s difficult to keep people happy all the time. But, it can largely be achieved by providing responsive governance and creating a sense of confidence among the people, about the government. People are unhappy over rising costs of living and the government’s failure to control it.
But, it must be noted that most people who follow political developments speak fairly well about Prithviraj Chavan as an individual. According to them, he has a clean record. Compared to his predecessors such as Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan, he has largely avoided controversies and allegations of corruption. An exception to this was talk of high-handedness in the approval of parking lots in Mumbai, and decisions to de-reserve plots in big cities. His detractors within and outside the government say that since he does not take decisions, he cannot commit mistakes.
Chavan has been facing allegations over slow decision-making by many politicians. But, as an answer to criticism, his office recently compiled a 137-page long list of decisions taken on various departments, projecting them as achievements. This seems to be an attempt to take credit for the smallest of government decisions.
Currently, Chavan’s relations with his government ally NCP are the talk of political circles. He hasn’t let go of any opportunity to embarrass NCP and allegedly used his excellent rapport with the opposition parties to corner the Sharad Pawar-led party. NCP, which emerged as the single largest party in the 2004 state assembly elections, is now struggling to maintain its strongholds. Its image has taken a severe beating due to allegations of corruption in departments controlled by the party, such as irrigation, energy, PWD and the state cooperative apex bank.
Contrary to perception that he was a novice to state politics and a stopgap arrangement thrust upon the state, Chavan took political analysts by surprise when he took the calculated risk of destabilising NCP. It seems he is not ready to forget his defeat by an NCP candidate on his home turf Karad, a Lok Sabha constituency represented by his father, the late Anandrao alias Dajisaheb Chavan and mother Premala, between 1952 to 1991, with the sole exception of the 1980 Lok Sabha elections. Chavan himself represented the constituency from 1991 to 1999.
He appears hell-bent on teaching the NCP a lesson. Apart from stalling proposals forwarded by NCP ministers, he has also appointed secretaries of his choice as administrative heads in departments of irrigation, food, tribal development, and now PWD, where an IAS officer is likely to be appointed soon.
Several MSRDC proposals have been languishing since months, and the state enterprise has become almost defunct.
In an attempt to disturb a cartel of big contractors, builders and suppliers, he introduced e-tendering and successfully reined in the lobby of unscrupulous builders who were dictating terms in the corridors of power. To break the nexus of politically strong contractors in the NCP-controlled irrigation department, he chalked out an ambitious plan to make cement bunds an immediate source of water to nearby villages and towns. Soon, Chavan may approach the World Bank for a Rs 2,000-crore loan for this project.
His excellent rapport with the opposition parties has further disturbed the NCP. His biggest blow to the party has been the way he forced Deputy CM Ajit Pawar to mend his ways. Sooner or later, he may force the NCP to merge with the Congress, say his close supporters. Attempts to disturb him by a section of Congressmen who owe allegiance to former CM Ashok Chavan, MPCC Chief Manikrao Thakre and AICC state in-charge Mohan Prakash have bitten the dust.
It will be interesting to watch how he leads his party in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, and later, the state assembly elections.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY