When he took over as Chief Minister following 26/11 terror attacks a year ago, Ashok Chavan was being considered as a political lightweight and a stop-gap arrangement.
On Saturday, as the 18-member Congress team was being sworn in, it was clear who was in charge. Half of the ministers were already Chavan loyalists and the rest were ready to toe his line.
Rival Vilasrao Deshmukh’s son Amit did not find a place in the cabinet despite the former CM’s hard lobbying. Only two of Deshmukh’s supporters, Balasaheb Thorat and Harshvardhan Patil, were inducted as ministers.
Even Deshmukh’s brother, Dilip, who was a minister in the previous government was dropped. Another rival, Narayan Rane just about managed to get a berth for himself but none for his supporters.
“The way the Congress team has been formed is clear indication that Chavan has strong control over it,” said political analyst B. Venkatesh Kumar. “Even someone like Narayan Rane has been keeping silent.”
Chavan kept state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre out but allowed ex-president Prabha Rau’s nephew, Ranjit Kamble, to be inducted in his team because Rau may return to state politics. The five vacant Cabinet berths of which the Congress is certain to get four offer Chavan an added advantage in his efforts to keep his loyal flock together.
Sharad Pawar, chief of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), meanwhile, showed who is boss in his party. Pawar has created three power centres within the party — nephew Ajit Pawar, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and RR Patil — so that no one leader can grow too big.
Party sources say Pawar wanted Patil back in the government. Patil had stepped down from the post of deputy CM following the 26/11 attacks.
“This has something to do with the way Ajit Pawar’s supporters showed their strength in the party meeting when Chhagan Bhujbal was elected to lead the party in the government,” said a senior NCP leader requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak on the subject. “Now Pawarsaheb has ensured that such scenes are not repeated.”
Party sources say Pawar wants to hand over the powerful home department to Patil. “Pawar has shown who is the boss,” said Kumar.