Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who is in the eye of a real estate storm, has been summoned to Delhi by the Congress high command. Confirming this to The Hindu, highly placed Congress sources said Mr. Chavan had been asked to meet party president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday.
The summons came amidst speculation in Congress circles that Mr. Chavan might be asked to step down as Chief Minister as his name has surfaced in the controversy surrounding the Adarsh Housing Society, a 31-storey high-rise building in Colaba, one of the most expensive parts of Mumbai. But it also came hours after Mr. Chavan, at a press conference in Mumbai, ruled out quitting as Chief Minister, stressing that the allegations against him were “politically motivated” and that there was nothing wrong in some of his “distant relatives” owning flats in the building.
Earlier in the day, the Congress had distanced itself from Mr. Chavan: “We are not holding any brief for anyone who might be responsible,” party spokesman Manish Tewari said on Friday, adding, “We do not want to shield anyone's misdemeanour or indiscretion...Let us await the outcome of the enquiry.”
He was responding to questions whether Mr. Chavan would be asked to step down, given that the names of his late mother-in-law Bhagwati Manoharlal Sharma, as well as two other relatives, had come up as beneficiaries in the Adarsh Housing Society.
Mr. Tewari pointed out that Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is also in charge of the Congress affairs in Maharashtra, had already stated that the matter would be investigated and “instant action” taken if someone was found responsible.
For the Congress, already embroiled in the Commonwealth Games scam and the spectrum allocation mess, the new scandal could not have come at a worse moment, especially as Mr. Chavan was the State Revenue Minister when the clearances were given for this housing society.
The winter session of Parliament begins on November 9, and these issues are sure to provide fodder for the political rivals, Congress managers fear.
However, party sources stressed that the question of “political accountability” would arise only after the facts of the case were established by the enquiry. This would include, these sources said, whether the Adarsh housing complex had come up on defence or Maharashtra government land, whether the land was acquired legally, whether the allotments were made as per the eligibility rules of the housing Society and finally, through whom the file clearing this housing complex had been passed and whether that person's relatives benefited.
Mr. Chavan has since said that the land belonged to the Maharashtra government and that the flats were not intended for Kargil war heroes and their families.
The Central Bureau of Investigation is already investigating how defence land was transferred to the Adarsh society and how the beneficiaries, including former services chiefs, politicians and bureaucrats, raised money to buy apartments meant for Kargil war heroes and their families.
Originally meant to be a six-storey structure to house Kargil war heroes and widows, it was later converted into a 31-storey tower, apparently in violation of environmental laws.