They say, history repeats itself, will it repeat itself in Maharashtra?
Five years back, around this time Vilasrao Deshmukh was replaced by Sushil Kumar Shinde as Chief Minister. The Congress tried to rally the Dalit vote a year before the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
But unlike last time, when Congress dissidents successfully led the anti-Deshmukh campaign, this time, Shiv Sainik-turned-Congressman Narayan Rane is spearheading the rebellion.
And this, a section in the party believes, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the beleaguered Chief Minister and perhaps win him a reprieve for some time.
As it is, the entry of Shiv Sainiks had created a ripple in the state unit and the impression that they are now trying to pressure the high command to change the Chief Minister is expected to lead to greater heartburn.
In fact, sources tend to read a message to this effect in NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s meeting with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray recently. Though choosing a chief ministerial candidate is seen to lie in the Congress’s domain, the ruling party can ill afford to impose its choice without taking its ally into confidence.
For the moment, the Congress’s central leadership seems caught in a Catch-22 situation where continuing with Deshmukh is fraught with as many difficulties as changing him.
Not surprisingly, an AICC leader dismissed talk of a possible change at this juncture at least. “If we change him for a non-Maratha, the Marathas will gravitate towards the NCP which has been gaining ground in the state,” said a party leader whose view is also shared by sources in Pawar’s party.
Yet, in the face of BSP leader Mayawati’s bid to replicate her UP experiment of a Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit combination in Maharashtra and other states, the Congress realises the need to fence in its SC vote.
This is not the only contradiction the party is facing. It also realises that if it has to replace one Maratha with another, it would need to identify one who is better and taller than Deshmukh to give the state government a new look before the 2009 Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
And there it has only a limited choice of candidates unless it picks out a dark horse. Union Minister Prithviraj Chavan is one option though he has not been a player in the state. There is also the question whether he can be spared given his role in government and at the AICC where he holds charge of poll-bound states Karnataka and Tripura.
Ashok Chavan’s name has been in circulation. There are apprehensions that his sudden elevation may not go down well with many in the party besides stoking the past of how his father late S.B. Chavan was home minister during the Babri demolition.