The showdown between Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and NCP president Sharad Pawar reflects more than a conflict within the coalition between the Congress and the NCP. It is a clash of personalities, with each trying to assert his clout in Maharashtra politics.
Pawar has attacked Chavan for his reluctance about clearing projects that require the bending of rules. And his jibes have never gone unanswered since the showdown began in 2010.
“I admit I meticulously screen every critical file, says Chavan. “I cannot be blamed for withholding decisions where rules have to be violated.”
Pawar’s latest remark has been that the CM’s hands suffer a paralytic attack when it comes to clearing files. “Inordinate delays in taking decisions do not augur well for the state’s welfare.”
The battle lines are not restricted to the state administration. Chavan has thrown his hat into the cricket ring too. “Yes, I am trying my hand in cricket. I have become a member of the Mazgaon Cricket Club.”
“It is going to get murkier in the days ahead,” says an NCP minister. “The Maharashtra Cricket Association has always been Pawar’s domain. Even the Shiv Sena and the BJP have always bowed to his wishes.” And a BJP insider agrees, “Chavan appears to be working his way in with the help of senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde to undermine Pawar on the cricket pitch.”
Their political rivalry dates back decades. Chavan’s parents Premlatai and Anandrao Chavan belonged to the group against Yashwantrao Chavan, former deputy prime minister and Maharashtra’s first chief minister, who was Pawar’s political mentor during the latter’s early days in the Congress.
Anandrao Chavan served as union minister under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. In 1991, when Prithviraj Chavan became the Lok Sabha MP from Karad following the death of his mother, until then the MP, he inherited their political legacy. His loyalties continued with the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv family and he enjoyed direct access to Sonia Gandhi. Whenever his views were sought on matters of Maharashtra, his was always perceived as an anti-Pawar voice.
When he was made chief minister, the NCP did not consider him a political threat because he had until then based all his politics in Delhi. It appears to have been under the impression that deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar would dominate administrative and electoral politics because of the chief minister’s inexperience in Maharashtra politics.
A blow came in the form of Chavan’s decision to expose alleged financial irregularities and mismanagement in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank, which was controlled by Ajit Pawar. Through their clout in the apex cooperative bank, the Pawars had been controlling politics in rural Maharashtra. The chief minister’s move led to intervention by the RBI and the appointment of administrators.
In 2011, Chavan again hit the NCP by cracking down on corruption in irrigation, a sector under the department of water resources that had had Ajit Pawar as minister for 10 years. Ajit Pawar was no longer in charge when the crackdown came, having relinquished the portfolio after being made deputy chief minister in 2010, but he continued to have a say in the department now headed by his aide Sunil Tatkare. At least half a dozen cases relating to the Rs-70,000-crore came are under litigation.
Chavan and Sharad Pawar would speak on the phone and discuss developments in the state. At times, one would make a caustic remark at the other before they would patch up through coordination committee meetings.
What has bothered Pawar now is Chavan’s dominant role in deciding projects relating to departments controlled by the NCP. Chavan has put on hold a PWD project to extend the Bandra-Worli Sea Link to Nariman Point, though he has consented to a Rs-9,000-crore coastal road project by Maharashtra Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, which he controls.
PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal has often complained how “infrastructure committee meetings remain inconclusive”. NCP spokesperson Nawab Mulik said, “Delegations of industrialists or of the agriculture sector meet Pawar regularly and complain against Chavan’s indecisiveness. Why would anybody invest in a state where decisions are delayed indefinitely?”
The NCP estimates 144 files relating to public welfare are on hold. These include projects cleared in the cabinet.
Home is among the key departments in which NCP leaders resent Chavan’s assuming a decision-making role. It is held by R R Patil. Whenever Chavan has said, “The home department in any state should be with the chief minister,” NCP leaders have suggested Chavan hand over his urban development portfolio in exchange.
Pawar and Chavan are also battling over seat shares for 2014. Pawar sent union minister Praful Patel to seal a sharing formula — 22 out of 48 for the NCP, the remaining 26 for the Congress — but Chavan wants 19-29. Pawar reckons he needs 10 to 12 to retain his clout at the Centre. And the Congress wants to keep the NCP below that.