The new chief minister, if backed by the Congress high command, can give Maharashtra a chance to recover from being looted by rent-seeking politicians, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.
Now that it is Prithivraj Chavan in the saddle in Maharashtra, replacing Ashok Chavan, is it the time for a big change? It well could be, if Congress President Sonia Gandhi who asked the latter to step down and asked the former to step up decides to play her cards well and give Maharashtra a chance to recover from being looted by rent-seeking politicians.
For one, Prithviraj Chavan's inexperience in state politics, his functioning -- whatever the designation he had -- more as a special assistant to the prime minister, staying out of the skulduggery of politics is wrongly considered a disadvantage. I think otherwise, basing my contrarian view on the fact that states need a new paradigm where governance and not politics matter.
His not having clout among the legislators, not being a visible part of a major faction of the Congress is seen as weaknesses while it actually can be his strength. Provided -- yes, there is a caveat Sonia decides to build firewalls around him that keeps rent-seekers, groupies and others of that kind away.
By doing that, we would have a CEO who can run the state and an opportunity to perform better than it has. Whether it is Chandrababu Naidu then in Andhra Pradesh or Nitish Kumar in Bihar, perceptible changes were possible because they changed the rules of the political game.
For one, the new chief minister should have a cabinet of clean people, however hard it is to find them in the Congress party. Not one who has a whiff of a scandal or mischief around him should be allowed a berth. Not one official who is suspect -- in the Adarsh scandal or otherwise -- should remain in key offices but should be shunted out to innocuous positions even as criminal cases are launched against them. Mere departmental disciplining would not suffice.
And Prithviraj Chavan should not be involved in raising funds for the party for that is the root of every problem which makes the system corrupt. Especially since in the Congress, funds raised in its name are more than what actually reaches the headquarters or the key people of the machinery. He should be asked to run the government a la Manmohan Singh, be decisive and deliver on targets set.
He should be asked to work for the stakeholders and not the shareholders -- that is for the people, and not for the interest groups.
That is why a cabinet for him should consist of people who are honest and have the support of the bosses in the party, but not interference and demands, would work wonders. All that the person placed in a ministerial chair should have is the will. Most would show spine if they know that Sonia backs them. All factional considerations then vanish. There is no need to find people to fill the cabinet berths on caste, regional or factional considerations.
Maharashtra is in 2010 and equity in governance, not power-sharing for plunder is expected.
Remember, Gujarat once had Babubhai Jasbhai Patel who ensured that his official car was not used for going to party meetings. He took a bus to his destination instead. Such level of probity is difficult to come by but there is no harm in trying.
Any person with a clean record, a semblance of common sense, backing from the bosses, can overcome any hurdles and be a good chief minister. Only other criterion is that he should have the willingness to work hard as a CEO should, not play politics.
Where is the need to pander to the group interests of Vilasrao Deshmukh, for instance, if he is also equally involved in the Adarsh's cooperative housing society's progress? Does it matter if he has support of MLAs when Sonia's word is final? Does anyone dare raise a rebellion and organise a coup against her?
Most coups in the past everywhere in the country have been command performances, with signals coming from New Delhi. Politicians, because of their self-interest and need to survive, are spineless. It should be played upon.
So what should the Congress do to carry conviction with the people -- its important constituency, without which the party can be pushed back to the opposition benches -- in a rapid-fire manner?
Edge out quickly everyone who is in public office and had signed on the files. Suspend every official involved in the process and benefited, either directly or by apartments secured for their nominees. And the legislators like Babasaheb Kupekar who was no less than a Speaker of the Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly and Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, who have apartments there, to be shunned from all party activities.
The Congress knows how to arm-twist people into compliance and turn them into political pariahs. This is the time to put its skill to use.
Maharashtra needs just something like this because it has been looted and ravaged enough by politicians who have become clannish and use votes as currency to gain access to public funds for personal gains. In Maharashtra, the chai-pani culture has become so rooted that common citizens would feel like having every rent-seeker hung from the lampposts but finds that the system has gone so out of control that the shareholders gain everything and the stakeholders get nothing.
This, Sonia Gandhi, is the time to change all this. If she does not act decisively and across the board in a clean surgical manner and set up a new model, then all her firm demeanour and high moral ground would only appear to be pretence.
If she misses this golden opportunity of cleansing the system, it would mean she is also the kind who only has an interest in venality and quid pro quos on which the system survives, and people be damned. The enormous appetite for funds on the pretext of need for party funds is a cover for amassing ill-gotten wealth. Would she be able to rise above this and sweep the stables of the dung?
A total change, not just damage control is called for. Will she be up to it?
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.