The Congress’s problems are unlikely to end with the possible selection of Ashok Chavan, the fresh faced but inexperienced legislator who is now expected to lead the party from the front in the Lok Sabha elections expected before May 2009 and the assembly polls thereafter.
The party threatens to remain a divided house with the incumbent, much like his predecessor Vilasrao Deshmukh, expected to come under fire from rivals, including those aspiring for a role in ticket distribution.
At the same time, it would have to contend with its alliance partner, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that is jousting with it for dominant political space in the state.
There is already speculation over the next move of former chief minister Narayan Rane who has been trying to dislodge Deshmukh and eyeing the slot ever since he joined the party three years back.
Does the AICC have a role in mind to mollify the former Shiv Sainik who seems to have also lost out in the race to the chief minister’s chair also because of reports that the NCP may project another ex-Shiv Sainik Chhagan Bhujbal as the new deputy chief minister?
But if Rane targeted Deshmukh all this while, on Thursday he and his bete noire may now find a common rival in late Union Minister S.B. Chavan’s son who has for the present ended Rane’s dream of becoming chief minister and could end Deshmukh’s run as a Maratha leader.
And if Chavan uses well the opportunity he has got, he could also pose a threat to the emergence of Pawar’s daughter Supriya or his nephew Ajit to take on the NCP leader’s Maratha mantle.
In deputing two heavyweights — Union Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Maharashtra in charge AK Antony — to oversee the selection of the new legislature party leader, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was perhaps not only trying to send out a signal of the gravity of the situation but also to check dissidence if possible and ensure that the transition takes place smoothly.