Brushing aside speculation about a leadership change in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan virtually confirmed on Thursday that he is not going to be replaced.
Dismissing reports of political instability in the state, Chavan said vested interests were spreading stories about his imminent removal. However, he did not elaborate about the “vested interests” that were working against him.
“I don’t know where these stories are coming from. There was no confusion on the leadership issue…there was always clarity on it,” Chavan said, adding that those who are familiar with the functioning of the Congress are aware that decisions on leadership change are generally conveyed through a phone call. “It is never a long drawn-out process,” he said.
Speculation about Chavan’s exit has been rife since the Congress was mauled in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The party managed to win only two seats in Maharashtra. The poll results further strained the already-tenuous relations between the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, with the latter stepping up pressure for a leadership change.
Chavan came under attack from his own colleagues who told Congress president Sonia Gandhi that if the forthcoming assembly polls are conducted under Chavan’s leadership, the party would meet the same fate as it did in the Lok Sabha elections.
Reports of a possible change intensified last month when Congress senior leaders A K Antony and Ahmed Patel met Pawar. Chavan had subsequently met the Congress president.
He met Sonia Gandhi again on Wednesday night. In addition, he also held discussions with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, A K Antony, Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi.
Chavan refused to give details about his interaction with the senior leaders except to say that the discussions focused on the political situation and the strategy for the forthcoming assembly polls.
As for the tough posture adopted by its alliance partner, the NCP, Chavan maintained that the two parties had contested several elections together and this kind of bargaining for seats took place before every poll.
“There is nothing new which is happening this time,” he said. “Ultimately the seat-sharing will be decided by the Congress committee on alliances headed by Antony and a similar NCP panel headed by Sharad Pawar.”
Despite the party’s dismal performance in the Lok Sabha polls, Chavan was confident that “people will vote differently in the assembly elections.” In this connection, he referred to the results of the recent bypoll in Vidharbha where the BJP won the Lok Sabha seat while the assembly seat was taken by the Congress.
At the same time, Chavan admitted that the anger against the UPA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presidential style of campaign was responsible for the Congress party’s rout in the general election.
Insisting that state elections are necessarily different, Chavan said the Congress will study the strategies adopted by the Bharatiya Janata Party and seek to learn from them. People, he said, voted for the BJP to make Modi the prime minister. “But who will they project in the assembly election…,” the chief minister added.
Referring to the bomb blast in Pune on Thursday, Chavan maintained there was no need to panic as it was low-intensity bomb and there were no casualties.
Asked if the BJP will fuel communal passions with an eye on the coming assembly elections, Chavan said, “Let’s not paint a doomsday picture. But we have seen that they have benefited from communal strife in the past. Let’s hope they will not try it again.”