Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, after two years in office, has delivered on a parameter few thought possible: credibility. Chavan, a favoured back-room man in the Prime Minister’s Office, had built his career in New Delhi rather than in his home state. After the ignominious exit of his predecessor in the Adarsh Society scandal, he was deputed to do an assignment he had little interest in.
When Chavan took charge, the Maharashtra government suffered a serious credibility deficit; the popular perception was that his predecessors were puppets of Mumbai’s powerful real estate lobby. It was no mean feat to counter the perception, usher in a more transparent, rule-based system of decision-making, and send out strong signals that the state government and the man helming it were not up for a price. Even his political rivals credit Chavan as a person of “clean image” and “integrity”. In these days of scandal-driven politics, surely that’s a badge of honour.
The trouble is that Chavan seems to have got trapped in that image. The past two years have seen neither bold ideas to remodel or revitalise Mumbai nor ground-breaking plans to facilitate the rapid urbanisation of one of India’s largest states. Instead, Chavan has slowed down the pace of a number of projects in Mumbai and Maharashtra. In his early days in office, that could have been a deliberate ploy, but surely the IIT-trained technocrat appreciates the value of changing gears at the appropriate moment. With barely two years left for the state assembly election, which may coincide with the 2014 general election, Chavan must move beyond being a politician of principles to become – and be seen as – a man of action. Several stalled infrastructure projects need to be kick started, the state is still not the preferred destination for new industrial projects, agrarian issues including farmers’ suicides cry for solutions. When Maharashtra votes in 2014, or earlier, the government will be battling a severe antiincumbency factor after having been in power for three successive terms. What will the Congress-NCP show as a persuasive report card?
Chavan’s relationship with the NCP – particularly the Pawars – has been less than amicable. His attention to clean administration has meant that the taint of corruption now hounds the NCP; at one point, five of its ministers were accused of wrong-doing, its leader and Chavan’s bête-noire in the government, Ajit Pawar, stepped down from the cabinet amid charges of corruption in the irrigation scandal. For a leader not well-versed with state politics, Chavan seems to have shown political acumen in containing the alliance partner. It’s time to show some of his reputed administrative expertise, especially after the party’s Surajkund session.