In a big blow to the Congress in Maharashtra months ahead of the general election and state polls, former chief minister and former MP Ashok Chavan resigned from the party’s primary membership amid reports that he was in talks with the BJP. The senior leader may get a ticket to the Rajya Sabha, according to sources.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Chavan said he has 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, however, suggested that he was upset over the delay in finalising seat-sharing within the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance with just months left for the polls.
Mr Chavan, who represents Bhokar in the Assembly, met Speaker Rahul Narvekar and handed in his resignation. If he joins the BJP, it will be the second big switchover in Maharashtra after Congress leader Milind Deora quit the party last month and joined the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena.
Earlier, BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had been asked if Mr Chavan is joining the party. “I heard about Ashok Chavan from media. But only thing I can say now is that several good leaders from Congress are in touch of BJP. Those leaders who are connected with the masses are feeling suffocated in Congress. I am confident that some big faces will join Congress,” he had then said.
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.
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.
Responding to Mr Chavan’s decision, 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 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…
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) February 12, 2024
“When friends and colleagues leave a political party that has given them much — perhaps much more 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.
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