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'Ashok Chavan is a spent force in Marathwada'

February 13, 2024 15:53 IST
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'Chavan's political clout began declining since his Lok Sabha defeat in 2019.'

IMAGE: One year ago... Congress leaders Ashok Chavan, left, with Nana Patole, centre, and Balasaheb Thorat, right, at the party office in Mumbai, February 15, 2023. Photograph: PTI Photo

Former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan's exit from the Congress and his entry into the Bharatiya Janata Party marks the third high-profile exit -- former South Mumbai MP Milind Deora and former MLA Baba Siddiqui were the others -- from the state Congress.

While nobody is yet writing the Congress's epitaph in Maharashtra, with these three back-to-back exits -- and with Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister, the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, warning 'aagey, aagey dekho hota hai kya (stay tuned for what happens next)' -- political analysts and some Congress leaders, in the state predict an exodus from the Congress as it heads into a busy election season.

A prominent Maratha figure from Marathwada, Ashok Chavan, whose late father Shankarrao Chavan was also a state chief minister and Union home minister, "was lured by the BJP with the carrot of a Rajya Sabha seat and the stick of an Enforcement Directorate inquiry against him," avers a prominent Congress leader outlining the divide between Chavan and Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nana Patole.

"We expect more leaders to follow him into the BJP," admits this Congress functionary.

"Whatever our numerical strength, and whoever wants to exit, we are determined to take on the fascist and anti-people policies of Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha and assembly elections," the Congress keader claims.

Chavan, who came under the cloud of corruption owing to the Adarsh Housing Society scam during his stint as chief minister between 2008 and 2010, and for which he had to resign in 2010, defied the Narendra Modi wave in 2014 to win the Nanded Lok Sabha constituency.

He was one of two Congress MPs who won from Maharashtra as the nation was swept by the Modi wave in 2014.

Chavan, who was selected as the MPCC chief in 2015, could not retain Nanded in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and was defeated by the BJP's Prataprao Patil Chikhalikar.

Following in his father's footsteps, Chavan entered the political ring in the 1980s and since then has held important organisational as well as ministerial berths in the Congress. He served in then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's cabinet as minister of cultural affairs, industries, revenue and mines.

"Chavan's political clout began declining since his Lok Sabha defeat in 2019. The Congress adopted a policy of appeasing OBC leaders like Nana Patole and Vijay Wadettiwar and Chavan felt being sidelined by the party high command and even leaders like Patole," says a political observer of Maharashtra politics.

"It is no surprise that he quit the party with an eye on either the Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha elections," he adds.

"He can easily be accommodated as the BJP's Rajya Sabha candidate; in fact, he could even make it to the BJP list likely to be announced in a day or two," this observer claims.

Chavan's quitting the Congress, he asserts, will not dent the party's voter base in Nanded or Marathwada. "He was already a spent force in Marathwada. While his presence would have made no impact on the Congress's electoral fortunes in the region, his entry into the BJP would prominently be highlighted by them and he will be showcased as a Maratha face in the party," he adds.

"Now that he has joined the BJP, there is no point in discussing his importance or absence for Congress, or how it could impact us in the elections," says former MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre.

"Party makes the leaders," Thakre asserts, "leaders don't make the party."

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