Chief Minister Ashok Chavan may be busy touring Los Angeles, Malaysia and Singapore but a controversy is brewing in Mantralaya in his absence.
He has managed to upset senior Cabinet ministers, Revenue Minister Narayan Rane and Cooperation Minister Patangrao Kadam, by handing over charge of his departments to Congress ministers junior to them.
Protocol says Rane and Kadam are next in hierarchy among Congress ministers. Rane has been the chief minister and stands second in protocol followed by Kadam who has been a minister for several years.
Chavan holds charge of key departments such as urban development, housing and general administration. He handed over charge to Shivajirao Moghe (general administration), Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil (urban development and housing) and Harshavardhan Patil (cultural affairs).
“This sends a message that the CM does not trust Rane or Kadam both of who are seen as contenders for his chair,” said a cabinet minister requesting anonymity. Close aides of Rane and Kadam said the duo was unhappy but was not ready to talk about it publicly.
Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal is the head of the government in Chavan’s absence but has not been given charge of Chavan’s departments.
According to an informal agreement between the Congress and NCP, ministers will hand over charge of their departments to colleagues from their own parties when they are out of state on vacation or business. Chavan has, thus, given the charge to his colleagues in the Congress.
Chavan and Rane are not on good terms these days although it was Chavan who got Rane back into the cabinet after his mutiny in 2009. Rane has teamed up with Chavan’s rival, former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh, in demanding that the Congress contest the fourth seat in the recently concluded Legislative Council polls.
Chavan was forced to take the risk because Rane and Deshmukh put pressure on him.
He had to take the help of the MNS, which has now become a tricky situation for the Congress because it is worried about the reaction of voters in north India.
On the other hand, Kadam has been openly expressing his displeasure over Chavan’s was handling of things since he was given the less significant Forest portfolio when government was formed last year.