Ashok Chavan showed a lot of promise when he assumed office for his first full term as chief minister last November, after the Congress-NCP combine’s second consecutive win at the state level.
Having first assumed the chair in the wake of 26/11 — after Vilasrao Deshmukh was dethroned amid an outpouring of public rage — this relative unknown acquired a reputation as a good administrator and cautious politician.
He was the kind of man who would think twice before he took a decision. And he had every reason to do so — he needed to retain the party high command’s confidence in a volatile political situation.
Well over a year later, though, what was then hailed as caution is now being labelled ineffectiveness.
Some political analysts have put his general inaction — redevelopment plans are awaiting approval, infrastructure projects are delayed and the World Bank is once again grumbling about missed deadlines — down to complacency, and say this could cost him dear.
Others say it’s the infighting that is doing him in. “In the last three months, Chavan has had to safeguard his party’s interests against adversaries working against him,” says political analyst Pratap Thorat.
Meanwhile, the state continues to face a daunting set of challenges: Infrastructure is crumbling, top cops are dancing at parties thrown by gangsters and acute water and power crises loom. To top it all, food prices have shot up and continue to soar.
“Chavan did little by way of reacting to these challenges,” says Thorat. “He may be a sophisticated man with a management background, but in the end, it is the results that will count.”
Meanwhile, the 51-year-old continues to battle adversaries within the alliance (mainly the NCP) and even within his party (mainly Deshmukh). And, as his government dithered over cracking down on political leaders who incite their followers to violence — as the Shiv Sena and MNS have recently done — comes the Pune blast that has claimed 13 lives.
“Chavan should remember that a CM can be removed over law-and-order problems,” says Thorat. “He will have to avoid the political games and ensure the citizen is not at risk.”
Next month, Chavan will once again have a chance to act decisively, as the state prepares to present its annual Budget. “This could be Chavan’s chance to do something concrete for the state and its people,” says Thorat.
The question is, will he take it?