True to form? Ashok Chavan settles for Rajya Sabha berth without protest

It is a continuing measure of Chavan's cowardice that it has taken him so long to quit the Congress and join the BJP

As Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief, Chavan did nothing but sit tight (photo: @AshokChavanINC/X
As Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief, Chavan did nothing but sit tight (photo: @AshokChavanINC/X

Sujata Anandan

It is a continuing measure of Ashok Chavan's cowardice that it has taken him so long to quit the Congress and join the BJP. Chavan is the son of former Union home minister Shankar Rao Chavan, a man who, in his heyday, bravely descended onto the streets of Marathwada during the Razakar movement, taking on the Nizami forces and later fighting for the integration of the region into Maharashtra.

The son is obviously not made of the same mettle. In later years, Shankar Rao Chavan made no bones about taking on powerful sugar barons, including the mighty Sharad Pawar, in the interest of farmers of the region who were being deprived of water supply to their farms by sugarcane growers. Sugarcane consumes enormous amounts of water and almost all of it was being cornered by these powerful western Maharashtra politicians heading sugar factories.

As chief minister of Maharashtra, Shankar Rao was firm in formulating a 60-40 distribution of water resources so that other crops were not deprived, despite the fact that he was hated by the sugar barons. But the son, who also ended up as chief minister, never showed similar determination and courage, was afraid to take on Sharad Pawar even after he was no longer a Congressman and had formed the NCP, and was even afraid of dealing with chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh except through subterfuge and intrigue, and instantly retreated when challenged by Deshmukh. 

After Deshmukh’s passing, Chavan was almost the last man standing in the Congress in terms of grassroots connect, though he still fell short of Deshmukh’s abilities on that score. But that position brought him closer to the high command and despite his involvement in the Adarsh housing scam, Chavan received a lot of patronage from the Delhi leadership.

But this is where his cowardice, so far visible only to close supporters, became apparent to the general public. Even before the episodes of ED  raids had begun in right earnest in the country, Ashok Chavan was terrified of being thrown into jail by the ruling BJP government. The housing scam involved two other chief ministers, who had tweaked the rules to benefit friends and supporters, though they secured no personal gains.

Ashok Chavan, however, as revenue minister under Deshmukh, made sure he was a beneficiary, leading Deshmukh to say wryly, "Had he really wanted an apartment in south Mumbai, any builder would have been willing to gift him a penthouse free of cost. He really should not have needed to cut into a 650 sq ft army quota."

Not surprisingly, both Deshmukh, under whose term the Adarsh project was initiated, and Sushil Kumar Shinde, who carried it forward, wriggled out of the allegations, but his possession of not one but two flats in the Adarsh society exploded in Ashok Chavan’s face when he became chief minister. Since then, he has been afraid of not just the agencies but even then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, wondering throughout 2014-19 as to what price he would have to pay for taking on the BJP.

As a trusted Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief in those five years, Chavan did nothing but sit tight, making no statements against the BJP despite its many transgressions, and making no efforts to consolidate the Congress base at the grass roots, lest he somehow offend the BJP. As a result, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections saw the Congress lose all but one seat out of 48 — and even that was not won by Ashok Chavan, who contested from Nanded.

A former Shiv Sainik who joined the party days ahead of the polls won the singular seat from Vidarbha on his personal capital, even the NCP in alliance with the Congress won five seats in that election. Because of the manner in which he had tanked the Congress in the previous five years, the Congress expected to lose the assembly elections six months later, hoping to win at best a dozen seats out of 288.

That it surprised itself by winning 42 — just two less than its 2014 tally when it had been in power in the state — was owing to the fact that the Congress chose to appoint the rather self-effacing  but committed Balasaheb Thorat as state president, amply aided by five working presidents who worked hard to maximise the advantages in their respective regions.

Yet, Ashok Chavan was still given huge prominence in the Maha Vikas Aghadi, made a minister, put in charge of Rahul Gandhi’s Maharashtra leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, was the chief negotiator at the table for the Congress during seat-sharing talks with other MVA allies, and recently accommodated in the CWC. This, despite the fact that rumours have been rife since the BJY that he was contemplating quitting the party and joining the BJP because the Adarsh scam was simply not going away.

Those rumours gained further ground at least 10 days ago. According to sources, Ashok Chavan was to join the BJP on 21 February in the presence of Union home minister Amit Shah — the deal was that he would be made a minister in the Maha Yuti government. But Fadnavis is said to have firmly put his foot down, wanting no competition from a former chief minister and in addition, not wanting to give more importance than necessary to a Congressman by making a fanfare of his entry to the party.

So he had to quietly resign and accept a Rajya Sabha nomination instead without protest. Because, after all, the Adarsh sword is still hanging over his head. And the BJP washing machine has not yet been turned on in his case.

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