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Newsmaker: Ashok Chavan

Can Mr Clean duck the Adarsh mud?

Sanjay Jog  |  Mumbai 

As an ardent follower of Sathya Sai Baba, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan takes his teaching of “Love all, serve all; help ever, hurt never” quite seriously. So, it was no surprise that in the wake of allegations of involvement in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam last week, Chavan drew upon Baba’s message that “our conscience is our master” and tendered his resignation to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Ashok ChavanWhile his resignation has not yet been accepted, the charges against Chavan mark the latest in a series of setbacks in his second term as chief minister. He stands accused of misusing his position to allot flats in the 103-member society — meant for kin of soldiers killed during the Kargil operation — to five close relatives.

While the controversy swirls around him, Chavan is putting on a brave face and has even gone on the offensive to silence political adversaries within the party. He has indicated that he would not sink alone, but take his rivals down, too.

In a spirit case made to the Congress high command, Chavan said his predecessors — including Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Narayan Rane — should bear responsibility, too, and be taken to task. The trio are frontrunners for the CM’s post if Chavan is sacked.

A 51-year-old B-school-educated politician, Chavan was sworn in as chief minister the first time in December 2008 after Deshmukh was asked to resign in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. Chavan was personally chosen by Gandhi for his clean image. That apart, 10 Janpath did not forget the legacy of his father and former Union home minister S B Chavan while making its selection.

After Chavan led the party to an impressive performance in both the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly elections in 2009, the party had no alternative but to give him a second tenure at the helm of the state. The Chavans are the first father-son duo in the state's history to become chief ministers.

However, Chavan’s clean image has taken a serious beating after recent revelations on the Adarsh scam. Furthermore, the Election Commission is currently hearing a complaint against him for alleged malpractices during his October 2009 Assembly election from Bhokar constituency in Nanded district.

During his nine-month tenure as chief minister, Chavan has cultivated an image as a hard taskmaster like his father. His progressive outlook and action-oriented style initially forced ruling partner Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and bureaucracy to toe his line. However, things have soured during his second stint.

The NCP attacked Chavan for dumping its ministry’s proposals and straying from the coalition “dharma”. For its part, the bureaucracy found Chavan directionless. Chavan’s second term has also been marked by allegations of nepotism, massive corruption in the allotment of floor space index, and allotment of land under pressure from builders and developers.

The Opposition Shiv Sena-BJP alliance raked up what it calls a nexus between Chavan and builders inside and outside the state legislature. Against the backdrop of the Adarsh scam, the Opposition has sought the immediate dismissal of the Congress-led government in the state.

Chavan also attracted criticism when he personally supervised law & order arrangements during the visit of Rahul Gandhi to the city on February 5 this year. The Shiv Sena had threatened to protest against Rahul for his comment that Mumbai belongs to all Indians.

Chavan faced flak for his inaction against the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena for its violent agitation and attacks on non-Maharashtrians.

Chavan had weathered several crises until the Adarsh scam broke. Whether he survives this one remains to be seen.

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First Published: Fri, November 05 2010. 00:50 IST