Charges against former CMs continue to haunt party

The Congress continues to be in the throes of embarrassment in Maharashtra. The Adarsh society scam claimed the then Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, and in December last, the Supreme Court pulled up the former Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, for “interference” in the criminal justice system. In fact, on Saturday, Justice A.K. Ganguly, speaking at a seminar here, expressed dismay at Mr. Deshmukh continuing in “equal glory” as Union Minister for Rural Development.

The Adarsh society scam probe has also put another former Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, under the scanner. Last week, the Bombay High Court directed that activist Simpreet Singh's compliant to the State Anti-Corruption Bureau on Mr. Shinde's role be filed with the CBI.

Support for Ashok Chavan

A few days after the CBI's First Information Report said Mr. Ashok Chavan “abused his official position and favoured the society,” a section of MLAs led by Abdul Sattar and others rose in his support. They even met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and said they were unhappy with the CBI action since the State government had already announced a judicial inquiry.

This has not gone down well with the Congress high command, a senior member said. The State party head and the Chief Minister have been asked for an explanation, which, party sources say, is routine. However, the Congress, already under pressure from Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, is in no mood to be kind to recalcitrant leaders or aspirants for power. Attempts by Mr. Ashok Chavan's supporters to pressure the high command with a show of strength will not really help the beleaguered former Chief Minister.

Immediate task

As if all this is not enough, the Congress will have to take a quick decision on Mr. Prithviraj Chavan's election to the Legislature before the budget session begins on March 14. A Rajya Sabha member, he has to be elected to the Legislature within six months of his assuming power, of which nearly three months are over. Two by-elections have been announced for February 21 and 28, following the resignation of the Shiv Sena's Kiran Pawaskar (who has joined the Nationalist Congress Party) and the death of Vasant Pawar of the Nashik local bodies constituency. The NCP has already promised Mr. Pawaskar that it would nominate him for the seat. Some attempts to get Mr. Pawaskar to make way for Mr. Prithviraj Chavan have not made any headway.

The Congress has the option of asking one of the four MLCs, who were elected last year and whose terms will last till July 2016, to quit the seat for the Chief Minister. Of them — Dipti Choudhari, Vijay Sawant (independent with Congress support), Hussain Dalwai and two-time MLC Sanjay Dutt — all except Mr. Dutt have refused to resign, party sources say. As a party loyalist, Mr. Dutt will have no option but to make way for Mr. Prithviraj Chavan.

The Congress high command was thinking of asking Pradesh Congress Committee president Manikrao Thakre to resign but his term expires in July 2012 and this would mean another by-election for Mr. Prithviraj Chavan. A seat will have to be vacated and he will have to be elected quickly since the budget session usually lasts for a minimum of 45 days.

Among the Congress MLAs also, there seems to be a marked reluctance to make way for the Chief Minister and even in his home town of Satara, where the party is not really a power to reckon with any more. It may not be a good idea to let Mr. Chavan go to the public for votes.

Meanwhile, the conduct of the three former Chief Ministers will continue to torment the party for a long time to come.