NEW DELHI, Feb 12: The Congress received yet another serious blow in Maharashtra on Monday as the former chief minister and former MP Ashok Chavan resigned from the party’s primary membership amid reports that he is likely to join the BJP.
Coming close in the heels of several other senior Congress leaders including Millind Deora and Baba Siddique quitting the Congress, Mr Chavan’s resignation is considered a major blow to the Grand Old Party ahead of the Parliamentary elections due in a couple of months.
Mr Chavan also resigned as the Congress member of the Maharashtra Assembly. Mr Chavan, who represents Bhokar in the Assembly, met Speaker Rahul Narvekar and handed in his resignation.
Reports suggest that Mr Chavan was in talks with the BJP and is expected to be given a ticket to the Rajya Sabha. Speaking to reporters, Mr Chavan, however, said he had not taken any decision yet on joining another party. “I will take a decision in the next couple of days. I have not spoken to any party yet.”
The senior leader claimed that he was upset over the delay in finalising seat-sharing within the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance with just months left for the polls. But some BJP leaders have confirmed that the 65-year-old former Chief Minister will join the party, bringing along a group of supporters from the Marathwada region. Speculations rife that Mr Chavan may secure a Rajya Sabha berth from the BJP.
When asked about Mr Chavan’s potential entry into the party, BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said: “I learned about Mr Chavan from the media. However, what I can affirm is that several prominent leaders from Congress are in contact with the BJP. Those leaders who are connected with the masses are feeling suffocated in Congress. Leaders associated with the public are expressing dissatisfaction within the Congress. I am confident that some prominent figures will switch to the BJP.”
The discord between Mr Chavan and the state Congress president Nana Patole is likely to have influenced his choice to change allegiance, according to Congress sources. Mr Chavan’s differences with state party chief Nana Patole on selection of candidates may have played a major role in his decision to switch sides. “Mr Chavan always expressed dissatisfaction with Mr Patole’s role as MPCC chief and consistently held him responsible for the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government,” he said.
“Mr Chavan’s decision doesn’t come as a surprise. It has been in the works for more than five years, and the high command has been informed about it repeatedly. Nanded district, Mr Chavan’s hometown, has a significant Muslim and Dalit population, traditionally strong supporters of the Congress. While leaders may change, our grassroot cadre remains intact,” Mr Patole said.
Further, Mr Patole said the current political battle revolves less around ideology and more around apprehensions of the ED, CBI, and Income Tax. “Mr Chavan, despite the party’s historical roles for his family—his father serving as chief minister twice and holding significant positions like Defence minister— has opted to leave. He himself was made CM twice by the party, and held several key portfolios in various governments. It’s clear that the primary concern now seems to be investigative agencies and nothing else,” Mr Patole added.
Son of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Shankarrao Chavan, Ashok Chavan wields significant influence in the Nanded region and this switch may hurt the Congress in the upcoming polls. This also plays out against the backdrop of the tall poll challenge facing the Maha Vikas Aghadi — comprising the Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena, the Sharad Pawar camp of NCP and the Congress.
Ashok Chavan has had an eventful political journey so far. Starting out as a student leader during his college days, he went on to hold key posts in the Congress, including Maharashtra Congress chief and a member of the Congress Working Committee. He has served as an MP from Nanded on two occasions and been a member of both Houses of the state legislature.
After serving as state minister, he was chosen for the Chief Minister post after Vilasrao Deshmukh stepped down in the aftermath of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. The Congress retained him on the top post after the 2009 state polls. The stint was, however, short as Mr Chavan was forced to step down amid corruption allegations related to the Adarsh Housing Society scam.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh took a “washing machine” jab — washing machine is an oft-repeated reference the Congress uses to accuse the BJP of stalling criminal investigations against Opposition leaders who switch to their side.
“When friends and colleagues leave a political party that has given them much — perhaps much more than they deserved—it is always a matter of anguish. But to those who are vulnerable THAT Washing Machine will always prove more attractive than ideological commitment or personal loyalties,” Mr Ramesh said. “These betrayers don’t realise that their exit opens up vast new opportunities to those whose growth they have always stunted,” he added.