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With Ashok Chavan, Congress Loses Eminent Maratha Face, BJP Wins Perception Game

Despite past signs of Ashok Chavan-Eknath Shinde-BJP bonhomie, Chavan has key challenges even as BJP stands to gain.

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"Adarsh Housing Society Scam: This case involved irregularities in allotment of apartments in a defence land project. It is at the trial stage," was a prominent point under the 'Pervasive Corruption' section of the 'White Paper' presented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Parliament last week.

The scam that rocked the Congress in Maharashtra in 2010 cost Ashok Chavan his chief-ministership, leading to investigations by central agencies that are sub-juidice till date.

One of the tallest state leaders, Chavan who quit the party on Monday, has now joined the list of 'born Congressmen' jumping ship to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"Even if 100 Modis come, I won't budge," Chavan said in 2014 being one of the two Congress leaders to retain their Lok Sabha seats. A decade later, Chavan after being inducted into the BJP said: "After 38 years of my political career, I am changing course and joining the BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Inspired by his vigour, I am joining the party in all honesty so that I can work for the betterment of the state and the country."
Despite past signs of Ashok Chavan-Eknath Shinde-BJP bonhomie, Chavan has key challenges even as BJP stands to gain.

Former Maharashtra CM and Congress leader Ashok Chavan joins BJP in the presence of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Maharashtra BJP President Chandrashekar Bawankule, in Mumbai, Tuesday, 13 February, 2024.

(Photo: PTI)

Nevertheless, it is not just a big blow for the Maharashtra Congress, but also for an embattled Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance that has already been on wobbly grounds with the vertical splits in the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the past two years.

A closer look at 4 key aspects of Ashok Chavan's exit:

With Ashok Chavan, Congress Loses Eminent Maratha Face, BJP Wins Perception Game

  1. 1. Marathas and Marathwada: Chavan's Exit May Dent Congress' Clout

    Chavan's exit comes at a crucial point in the Maratha and Marathwada-centric politics underway in the state. For the Marathas of the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, Ashok Chavan is a name that resonates.

    Since 1967, the Congress has lost the Nanded Lok Sabha seat only four times to the Janata Party/BJP (1977, 1989, 2004 & 2019). The Nanded Lok Sabha has six constituencies — Bhokar, Nanded North, Nanded South, Naigaon, Deglur, and Mukhed.

    The Congress has never lost the Bhokar seat in close to six decades, with the seat also having been represented twice by Shankarrao Chavan, Ashok Chavan's father, two-time chief minister of the state, and former home minister of India.

    All in all, the Congress dominance in Nanded comes with the legacy voters built over decades since Shankarrao's time, a significant chunk of which may now follow Chavan to the BJP.

    "His entry will benefit us in Marashtra and Marathwada," Fadnavis said. "We know where to take Ashokrao's help, we will take it where it's appropriately needed," he added.

    Speaking of a dent in the Congress at the state level, Chavan was one of the few prominent faces left. Barring the alleged Adarsh Housing Society scam, he claimed a clean record.

    Since Sharad Pawar broke away and formed the NCP in 1999, the Congress got its highest tally in the Assembly (82) under the leadership of Chavan in 2009, merely a year after taking over as the chief minister.

    In 2014, Chavan won the Nanded Lok Sabha seat while the party was reduced to just two seats in the state, its worst tally ever. The adjacent seat of Hingoli that Rajiv Satav won was also credited to Chavan's political clout. Hence, his defeat in the 2019 general elections came as a shocker.

    Expand
  2. 2. Amid Past Signs of Bonhomie, Chavan Gets Greener Pastures: What Next?

    After specifically denying any talks with the BJP while quitting the Congress on Monday, Chavan on Tuesday made the much predicted move to the saffron party.

    Meanwhile, many point out to 'previous signs' of the times when Chavan and the Eknath Shinde-BJP government have been soft on each other — Chavan and 10 other MLAs being absent from CM Shinde's floor test in June 2022; Chavan's Bhokar constituency getting Rs 726 crore under the Jal Jeevan Mission in July 2022; and the state government's most recent approval of loan guarantees worth Rs 147.8 crore to the sugar factory controlled by Ashok Chavan.

    Clearly, a leader as prominent as Chavan would have carefully thought out the move to the BJP with a fair bargain.

    With Eknath Shinde, a key Maratha face openly backing activist Manoj Jarange Patil's demands for reservation for the community, the BJP, too, is looking to score brownie points with the community in Marathwada and Vidarbha where the party has a weaker hold compared to other regions.

    For Chavan, sources stressed on possible talks of a Rajya Sabha berth from the BJP, though the former CM on Tuesday categorically denied asking for any post from the party before joining it. The party yet to announce nominations from Maharashtra for the upcoming elections to the Upper House. The last date of filing nominations is 15 February.

    "Who will be nominated for Rajya Sabha and who won't be is decided by the central leadership of the BJP,"  Fadnavis said when quizzed about it in the press briefing alongside Chavan on Tuesday.

    With the BJP being the single largest party in the state, key positions and responsibilities for Chavan in its functioning are also imminent.

    What will be challenging, though, is the problem of plenty that the ruling Mahayuti has been dealing with since Ajit Pawar joined the government.

    With the three parties already having several tall leaders in the line-up for key positions, it remains to be seen how the alliance takes up the challenge of accommodating Chavan.

    Moreover, with Jarange Patil's campaign already having weaved a 'Fadnavis is anti-Maratha' perception, it remains uncertain how Maratha voters from the Nanded region would perceive Chavan's move to the saffron party under Fadnavis' leadership.

    Expand
  3. 3. With Chavan, Congress Loses Perception Game Yet Again

    The message, meanwhile, the BJP is furthering is that even the tallest of the leaders in the Congress cannot be retained by the party.

    Until Milind Deora, another 'born Congressman' that quit the party just a month ago, the Maharashtra Congress was the most steadfast when it came to defections.

    After vertical splits in the Sena and the NCP, the Congress emerged as the largest Opposition party in Maharashtra with many state leaders seeing it as an opportunity to regain its footing.

    Even before Chavan announced his decision, the BJP is already started furthering the narrative that more and more Congress leaders now want to come under PM Narendra Modi's leadership, and that the MVA was always an 'unnatural and unsustainable' alliance.

    "The Congress has many good leaders who have a connect with the people. But the way the Congress has been functioning for the past few years, many feel suffocated. Hence, many of them from across the country are joining the BJP and many more will come. I would just say — wait and watch," Fadnavis said.

    The MVA, on the other hand, has pointed to the Adarsh Housing Society scam and its mention in the government's White Paper as one of the key reasons behind Chavan's exit.

    "The Election Commission handed over the Shiv Sena and the BJP to the thieves. They may give the Congress to Ashok Chavan now," former CM and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray said, adding that Chavan is "at the BJP's doorstep only to hide the Adarsh scam."

    "The High Court has decided in our favour in that matter," Chavan told the media on Tuesday.

    Expand
  4. 4. Maharashtra Congress Infighting Back in Focus

    The rift brings back the focus to the infighting within the state Congress unit that came out in the open exactly a year ago, with reports of several prominent leaders having a rift with state party chief Nana Patole.

    Chavan, when quizzed about issues within the state unit on Monday, gave a cryptic reply.

    "Everything does not need a reason. Since my birth, I have been associated with the Congress. I wanted to weigh other options now, and hence I decided to resign. I don't want to talk about internal party politics or speak ill about anybody. That is not in my culture," he told the media after he quit on Monday.

    Soon after his resignation, Patole on Monday took to X and called the move "unfortunate."

    "Congress party has given a lot to many leaders. Today, when the Congress party is fighting to save the constitution and democracy, it is unfortunate that leaders who have got everything are leaving the Congress party and ideology," Patole said.

    "If the Congress has given me a lot, I, too, have given a lot to the party. It has worked both ways is something I would like to categorically state," Chavan said in his retort while addressing the media.

    "Politics is a means to service. I have mentioned earlier that I don't want to make personal remarks against anybody. Yes, there were people who said certain things, passed taunts, some also supported me. That is alright. I have never made personal attacks against anybody and I will not in future either," Chavan said on Tuesday.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Marathas and Marathwada: Chavan's Exit May Dent Congress' Clout

Chavan's exit comes at a crucial point in the Maratha and Marathwada-centric politics underway in the state. For the Marathas of the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, Ashok Chavan is a name that resonates.

Since 1967, the Congress has lost the Nanded Lok Sabha seat only four times to the Janata Party/BJP (1977, 1989, 2004 & 2019). The Nanded Lok Sabha has six constituencies — Bhokar, Nanded North, Nanded South, Naigaon, Deglur, and Mukhed.

The Congress has never lost the Bhokar seat in close to six decades, with the seat also having been represented twice by Shankarrao Chavan, Ashok Chavan's father, two-time chief minister of the state, and former home minister of India.

All in all, the Congress dominance in Nanded comes with the legacy voters built over decades since Shankarrao's time, a significant chunk of which may now follow Chavan to the BJP.

"His entry will benefit us in Marashtra and Marathwada," Fadnavis said. "We know where to take Ashokrao's help, we will take it where it's appropriately needed," he added.

Speaking of a dent in the Congress at the state level, Chavan was one of the few prominent faces left. Barring the alleged Adarsh Housing Society scam, he claimed a clean record.

Since Sharad Pawar broke away and formed the NCP in 1999, the Congress got its highest tally in the Assembly (82) under the leadership of Chavan in 2009, merely a year after taking over as the chief minister.

In 2014, Chavan won the Nanded Lok Sabha seat while the party was reduced to just two seats in the state, its worst tally ever. The adjacent seat of Hingoli that Rajiv Satav won was also credited to Chavan's political clout. Hence, his defeat in the 2019 general elections came as a shocker.

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Amid Past Signs of Bonhomie, Chavan Gets Greener Pastures: What Next?

After specifically denying any talks with the BJP while quitting the Congress on Monday, Chavan on Tuesday made the much predicted move to the saffron party.

Meanwhile, many point out to 'previous signs' of the times when Chavan and the Eknath Shinde-BJP government have been soft on each other — Chavan and 10 other MLAs being absent from CM Shinde's floor test in June 2022; Chavan's Bhokar constituency getting Rs 726 crore under the Jal Jeevan Mission in July 2022; and the state government's most recent approval of loan guarantees worth Rs 147.8 crore to the sugar factory controlled by Ashok Chavan.

Clearly, a leader as prominent as Chavan would have carefully thought out the move to the BJP with a fair bargain.

With Eknath Shinde, a key Maratha face openly backing activist Manoj Jarange Patil's demands for reservation for the community, the BJP, too, is looking to score brownie points with the community in Marathwada and Vidarbha where the party has a weaker hold compared to other regions.

For Chavan, sources stressed on possible talks of a Rajya Sabha berth from the BJP, though the former CM on Tuesday categorically denied asking for any post from the party before joining it. The party yet to announce nominations from Maharashtra for the upcoming elections to the Upper House. The last date of filing nominations is 15 February.

"Who will be nominated for Rajya Sabha and who won't be is decided by the central leadership of the BJP,"  Fadnavis said when quizzed about it in the press briefing alongside Chavan on Tuesday.

With the BJP being the single largest party in the state, key positions and responsibilities for Chavan in its functioning are also imminent.

What will be challenging, though, is the problem of plenty that the ruling Mahayuti has been dealing with since Ajit Pawar joined the government.

With the three parties already having several tall leaders in the line-up for key positions, it remains to be seen how the alliance takes up the challenge of accommodating Chavan.

Moreover, with Jarange Patil's campaign already having weaved a 'Fadnavis is anti-Maratha' perception, it remains uncertain how Maratha voters from the Nanded region would perceive Chavan's move to the saffron party under Fadnavis' leadership.

0

With Chavan, Congress Loses Perception Game Yet Again

The message, meanwhile, the BJP is furthering is that even the tallest of the leaders in the Congress cannot be retained by the party.

Until Milind Deora, another 'born Congressman' that quit the party just a month ago, the Maharashtra Congress was the most steadfast when it came to defections.

After vertical splits in the Sena and the NCP, the Congress emerged as the largest Opposition party in Maharashtra with many state leaders seeing it as an opportunity to regain its footing.

Even before Chavan announced his decision, the BJP is already started furthering the narrative that more and more Congress leaders now want to come under PM Narendra Modi's leadership, and that the MVA was always an 'unnatural and unsustainable' alliance.

"The Congress has many good leaders who have a connect with the people. But the way the Congress has been functioning for the past few years, many feel suffocated. Hence, many of them from across the country are joining the BJP and many more will come. I would just say — wait and watch," Fadnavis said.

The MVA, on the other hand, has pointed to the Adarsh Housing Society scam and its mention in the government's White Paper as one of the key reasons behind Chavan's exit.

"The Election Commission handed over the Shiv Sena and the BJP to the thieves. They may give the Congress to Ashok Chavan now," former CM and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray said, adding that Chavan is "at the BJP's doorstep only to hide the Adarsh scam."

"The High Court has decided in our favour in that matter," Chavan told the media on Tuesday.

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Maharashtra Congress Infighting Back in Focus

The rift brings back the focus to the infighting within the state Congress unit that came out in the open exactly a year ago, with reports of several prominent leaders having a rift with state party chief Nana Patole.

Chavan, when quizzed about issues within the state unit on Monday, gave a cryptic reply.

"Everything does not need a reason. Since my birth, I have been associated with the Congress. I wanted to weigh other options now, and hence I decided to resign. I don't want to talk about internal party politics or speak ill about anybody. That is not in my culture," he told the media after he quit on Monday.

Soon after his resignation, Patole on Monday took to X and called the move "unfortunate."

"Congress party has given a lot to many leaders. Today, when the Congress party is fighting to save the constitution and democracy, it is unfortunate that leaders who have got everything are leaving the Congress party and ideology," Patole said.

"If the Congress has given me a lot, I, too, have given a lot to the party. It has worked both ways is something I would like to categorically state," Chavan said in his retort while addressing the media.

"Politics is a means to service. I have mentioned earlier that I don't want to make personal remarks against anybody. Yes, there were people who said certain things, passed taunts, some also supported me. That is alright. I have never made personal attacks against anybody and I will not in future either," Chavan said on Tuesday.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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