While a student at university, I remember my political science professor telling us about Indira Gandhi: “She never drops anyone like a hot potato. But like a cat playing with a mouse, she lets them down gently. So that should she ever need them again, she can pick them up once more without fuss or resentment and give them a new lease of life and they will be forever grateful for that second birth.’’
The cash-for-cement scam had then just broken and former chief minister AR Antulay was under pressure to resign. Although the scheme had been named after Indira Gandhi, she said little about the scam but did not come to Antulay’s rescue. However, he was quietly rehabilitated in other ways even before being exonerated by the courts and continued to be a loyal Congressman till the end.
Having recently read former Union external affairs minister Natwar Singh’s One life is not enough (Singh has been a Nehru-Gandhi loyalist all his life, his grouse is understandable), I realised that the one thing that Sonia Gandhi probably did not pick up from her mother-in-law was this art of playing cat and mouse with her victims. She abandoned Singh to the elements even without giving him the benefit of the doubt and that is also, perhaps, former Union environment minister Jayanthi Natrajan’s grouse against Rahul Gandhi today.
But closer home, there seems to be an exception to this rule of hasty abandonment — that of Ashok Chavan. I am by no means endorsing corruption but I believe that Chavan was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the scam broke and he was unduly crucified by his party for something he may not have done. Chavan was dropped by his party, perhaps rightly, far quicker than the BJP was willing to abandon former Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa for graver acts of commission but most of us at that time conveniently forgot that Chavan was the revenue minister and not the CM when he made those damning notations on the file.
Two CMs were in office before him and they could easily have overturned his ruling if they wanted to or if they had believed it was wrong — but they didn’t. Moreover, no one bothered to probe if the Adarsh land belonged to the Army. If it belonged to the Maharashtra government, as it was later established, was there something wrong in seeking civilian accommodation in the building?
But even if the land belonged to the Army, most of us failed to note that the beneficiaries among Chavan’s relatives were ex-armed forces personnel and that they returned those flats, which they paid for with their own money, soon after. Moreover, the inquiry panel set up to probe the scam did establish that there had been no quid pro quo in the allotment of those flats to Chavan’s relatives.
But there has clearly been a rethink in the Congress vis-à-vis Chavan for he is the one who saved their bacon during the Lok Sabha polls. Had Chavan not won from Nanded and helped Rajiv Satav win from Parbhani, the Congress would have gone for a duck in those polls.
Now as he emerges as the front runner for the job of state Congress president, I believe the Congress may have finally found the right man for the right job at the right time. Chavan is aggressive without being offensive when fellow contender Narayan Rane is more bullish than effective. He is not indifferent to his party’s fortunes or resentful about how little the party seems to have done for him as Nitin Raut seems to be. And he is not immature or wishy-washy as, perhaps, Harshvardhan Patil could be. And he knows Maharashtra, unlike his successor Prithviraj Chavan. Moreover, he is a robust campaigner unlike past president Manikrao Thakre.
Clearly, under the circumstances, the Congress could do no better than Ashok Chavan — unless the party has a death wish and wishes to shoot itself in the foot again!