Former Maharashtra CM and senior Congress party leader Ashok Chavan has announced that he is joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to experts, this defection is a major blow to the Congress party. The party has faced a series of defections recently, including those of former Union minister Milind Deora and MLA Baba Siddique.
Chavan, 66, a former chief minister of Maharashtra, won his first election on the Congress ticket nearly 40 years ago and is the son of Congress veteran Shankarrao Chavan, who held high-ranking positions in the party.
Sources told the Indian Express that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been working since losing the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly elections and has already orchestrated defections from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena, also opened channels with Chavan about five years ago.
Since then, multiple incidents involving Chavan have fueled speculation about his possible exit. Chavan was blamed in June 2022 when cross-voting cost the Congress Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council seats.
A month later, the senior leader and 11 MLAs loyal to him did not show up for the BJP-Shinde Sena government's trust vote, which had toppled the government of NCP, Congress, and Uddhav Sena. Chavan said that they got stuck in traffic at the time and could not make it to the Assembly on time.
However, on Tuesday, Chavan announced that he is joining the BJP, despite having stated a day earlier that he has yet to decide on his further course of action and has yet to speak with any BJP leaders.
#WATCH | After quitting Congress, former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan says "Today around 12-12:30, I am going to start a new journey of my political career, I am going to join BJP..." pic.twitter.com/hpSZDoQVWp— ANI (@ANI) February 13, 2024
Rise and fall of Ashok Chavan's career
A former Maharashtra CM, Chavan rose to power in unfortunate circumstances before losing it in a similar situation.
He was named by the Congress to the post in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, leading to the exit of then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh. Many in the Congress were apprehensive that Chavan, a relative junior, would be unable to compete with ally NCP's doyen Sharad Pawar, but Chavan quickly took control of both the administration and Congress.
After the 2009 Assembly elections, in which the Congress-NCP won, the NCP reportedly opposed Chavan's appointment as CM, proposing Sushilkumar Shinde to take his place. However, AICC president Sonia Gandhi is believed to have prevailed and sided with Chavan.
The Adarsh Housing Society Scam, though, cut short that term. Chavan, who was accused of exploiting his power to help family members obtain houses under the Adarsh housing scheme for war veterans, vehemently denied the charges and challenged them in court.
However, the high command asked him to step down, arguing that the allegations were harming the party at a time when the UPA government at the Centre was waging a coordinated anti-corruption campaign. The BJP also made the alleged Adarsh scam a poll issue in successive elections, with Devendra Fadnavis leading the charge.
In another controversy, the Election Commission of India (ECI) questioned Chavan over the failure to disclose poll expenditure related to advertisements in a Marathi daily.
Chavan finally resigned on November 9, 2010, and was replaced by Prithviraj Chavan. Despite his uncontested support base, Ashok Chavan failed to regain his stature in the party after that.
Chavan, like his father, entered politics and ran for the Nanded Lok Sabha constituency in 1987.
With his heart set on Maharashtra politics, he returned to the state shortly after, becoming an MLC in 1992 and later Minister of State (MoS) for Urban Development, PWD, and Home. Chavan served as Minister of Transportation, Cultural Affairs, and Protocol in the Congress-NCP cabinet led by Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Chavan was appointed minister again in 2004, this time with the key portfolios of Industries, Mining, and Cultural Affairs.
A non-controversial and amiable leader, Chavan was seen favourably by all party members. If there were any problems, they were with fellow Maratha leader Deshmukh, whom he later succeeded as chief minister. This was primarily owing to a tussle between the two over control of the Marathwada region, to which both belonged. Deshmukh died in August 2012.
After two brief terms as chief minister, Chavan's career took off when he won the Nanded Lok Sabha seat during the 2014 elections. Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate at the time, himself campaigned in Nanded but was unable to prevent the Congress leader from winning.
Chavan, however, was defeated by BJP's Pratap Patil Chikhlikar by 20,146 votes in the 2019 election. He then contested the 2019 Assembly elections, winning the Bhokar seat he has held since becoming chief minister in 2009.
According to sources, the BJP was eager to get Chavan on board because Nanded remained a tough seat for the party, as seen by internal surveys.
Leaders see last year's Ganesh festival as a crucial turning point, with Chavan and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis coming face to face. Although both parties regarded the encounter as apolitical, sources added that the process of reconciliation began there.
Following Monday's developments, many old-timers recalled how Chavan's father, Shankarrao Chavan, who also served as Maharashtra chief minister and Union home minister, was known as "Headmaster" for his integrity, honesty, and timeliness.
Others questioned Chavan's alliance with Fadnavis, the BJP leader who spearheaded the corruption allegations against him.
Now, all eyes are set on Maharashtra politics, with Chavan's decision casting a pall over the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections in the state. And as Deputy CM Fadnavis stated, all we can do now is "wait and watch what happens next."