The fate of Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan hangs in balance, with the Congress high command still undecided about replacing him, after increasing pressure from ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and a rise in dissenting voices from within the party.
Chavan, however, managed to hold on to the chief minister’s post, for now, after a day of hectic meetings with the Congress top brass.
The chief minister, who flew to Delhi on Friday night, had an hour-long meeting with party president Sonia Gandhi at her 10, Janpath residence on Saturday. Chavan, who was accompanied by a group of six legislators, also met senior Congress leader AK Antony, who was in-charge of Maharashtra at one point of time, and Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel during the day.
He is believed to have explained his position to Gandhi, and termed the demands for his ouster by NCP chief Sharad Pawar and a few senior state Congress leaders as motivated by vested interests. However, it is unsure if Gandhi is convinced with the defence Chavan put up.
Sources said a final decision could be taken next week after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is abroad, returns to Delhi and once the Antony-led committee, appointed to look into the poll debacle, meets party legislators on June 28. “Anything can happen. It’s still fifty-fifty,” said a senior leader.
What could work in Chavan’s favour is that the state assembly polls are just a couple of months away and that would leave little time for a new chief minister to make any difference to the party’s fortunes. Chavan is also believed to have told the party top brass on Saturday that an atmosphere of uncertainty will not be good for Maharashtra.
The talk about a change of guard in Maharashtra had gained momentum after Antony and Patel met Pawar in Delhi on Thursday night. Speaking in Mumbai on Friday, Pawar had said that several issues relating to Maharashtra, including Chavan’s style of functioning, were discussed at the meeting. “But we did not demand the removal of Chavan. We are not averse if Sushilkumar Shinde is appointed as the CM of Maharashtra,” Pawar had said, putting further pressure on Congress.
According to sources, the Congress can’t afford to irk ally NCP after the recent Lok Sabha polls debacle, when Congress could win only two and NCP won four of the 48 seats in Maharashtra.
What makes the situation further bleak for Chavan are the dissenting voices of several Congress state leaders. For the past couple of weeks, opposition to Chavan has been apparent with several Congress legislators making it clear that under his leadership, the party would once again face resounding defeat. Senior Congress minister Narayan Rane has publicly revolted and others like agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, EGS minister Nitin Raut had gone public with their complaints against Chavan’s leadership style and slow decision making.
Congress has so far not appointed senior leaders as observers for the state, which normally signifies that a change of leadership is on the cards. On Friday, there was talk of Congress appointing two observers – A K Anthony and Ghulam Nabi Azad – for the state and that they would come to Mumbai and meet party legislators. However, there was no official word about it.
“I have not been informed about observers being appointed for the state. There is also no indication to us about a possible leadership change,” said state party president Manikrao Thakre.