The change of leadership may have brought an end to a part of Congress and NCP’s problems in Maharashtra? However, the latest developments, could be the start of a new problem for the two.
The Congress’s decision to pick a chief minister from NCP Chief Sharad Pawar’s backyard has stirred a hornet’s nest. Prithviraj Chavan comes from Karad in western Maharashtra. His selection means the two parties will have have fight it out for control over western Maharashtra — till now a strong base for the NCP.
The two parties have been in a power-sharing alliance since 1999 and their relation has been fairly peaceful.
Chavan’s appointment could change all that. Since 1999, the Congress has picked only one western Maharashtra politician for chief ministership —Sushilkumar Shinde. Barring that, the party kept the chief ministership in central Maharashtra, leaving the crucial western part largely for its alliance partner. The region has played a crucial role in state politics as the sugar-rich belt is dominated by a network of powerful cooperative bodies.
Chavan, on his part, is not exactly a fan of Pawar. He is also politically strong as he enjoys the direct support of Congress leadership and has come with a clear mandate. One of his aims is to strengthen the party in the state. “Of course, he will try to regain the lost ground in western Maharashtra. That will be one of the challenges before him,” says Congress functionary Ratnakar Mahajan.
The Pune-Satara-Sangli belt of western Maharashtra is NCP’s strongpoint. If Chavan wants to revive the party there, he would be regarded as threat to NCP. “Expect a power tussle between Congress and NCP. I think this could be turning point in state politics. If Chavan pays attention to party organisation there, the NCP would have reasons to worry about,” says political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar.
It comes as no surprise then that the NCP has created another power centre in western Maharashtra — by making Ajit Pawar the deputy chief minister to counter Chavan’s influence. Pawar’s nephew Ajit knows how to use power and influence to maintain dominance. “Ajitdada’s selection is an indication of things to come. The NCP is getting in a combative mode,” said a party functionary.