Does a clean image help a politician win elections? Congressmen in the state are asking each other this question. Months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, many in the Maharashtra Congress are debating whether chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s attempt to keep his and his government’s image clean will help the party win seats in coming elections and return to power in the state assembly polls six months later.
Chavan, who took over as chief minister after the Adarsh episode in 2010, tried to keep his image clean. He came in at a time when his party was facing allegations in one scam after another. Considering the public mood at that time, Chavan did some cleaning up in the state administration, stopped obliging ruling party legislators or leaders, and put restrictions on transfers of bureaucrats, which was becoming lucrative business for politicians. In the initial months, he put a check on the activities of the builders’ lobby. His stock went up in the party when the irrigation scam broke. NCP leaders accused him of passing on information to BJP and Aam Admi Party leaders, who were targeting deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and other NCP leaders. The NCP also threatened to walk out of the state government because of this bitterness.
Now, Chavan’s party colleagues think the coming Lok Sabha elections will be the time for him to cash in on his public image. The party leadership gave him a free hand in Maharashtra and is now expecting him to improve the tally from 17 to at least 20 Lok Sabha seats, they say. In the 2009 parliamentary elections, the Congress won 17 seats and credit went to then chief minister Ashok Chavan. This time, in a situation where each seat will count, the party expects Prithviraj Chavan to deliver in terms of electoral gains, they say.
Will he manage to do it?
He has a tough task at hand: the Congress government at the Centre is anything but popular right now, so seeking votes in its name could be tricky.
As part of his exercise to maintain a clean image, Chavan ignored or discouraged established political practices — ruling parties empower leaders and legislators by giving them benefits of power, ensuring that the influence of party workers is maintained at the grassroots level, and putting opposition parties under pressure. This has led to a certain level of resentment against Chavan in the Congress as well as its alliance partner.
Further, Chavan is unlikely to get help from influential factions in his party. There is a trust deficit between him and state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre, who is starting a campaign to highlight the Congress’ achievements in the last five years. Factions loyal to late Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan are not happy with Prithviraj Chavan. They suspect that he avoided releasing the Adarsh probe panel’s final report so that names of their leaders would not get cleared. Now, they are likely to point fingers at Chavan if the party asks what should be done to win more seats in the state. Already, many of them, including Thakre, are publicly talking about how Chavan’s clean image will be the party’s advantage.
No matter what our politicians think, citizens want their elected representatives to be non-corrupt and clean. Problem is, this may not be enough for a ruling party. Other issues that matter include those that affect the lives of people across the state: price inflation, law and order, availability of employment, government’s handling of drought, and what farmers get after toiling all year. Different issues will dominate different areas. Will Chavan manage to satisfy people on these fronts? That will be known only when the results of the Lok Sabha elections are announced.