It is now clear there is no way Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan can hang on to his chair — without the ruling Congress compounding its ignominy and the mess in which it has landed the politics and governance of one of India's most advanced States. His 23-month tenure has been little more than an unending series of controversies and scams. He took over as Chief Minister after the 26/11 terror attacks saw the Congress remove Vilasrao Deshmukh from the gaddi. Mr. Chavan's time at the helm will be remembered for the paid news scandal, bank scams, shady land deals, and pathetic governance. L'affaire Adarsh Society, which has implicated several Army officers as well, seems to be scandal that broke the camel's back. It is a measure of the Congress's predicament that just as it seems to be in the process of jettisoning Mr. Chavan — the Pranab Mukherjee-A.K. Antony enquiry seems to be a ploy to put off the last rites to a politically less inconvenient short date — a new land deal controversy has engulfed Narayan Rane, the Revenue Minister and a once-potential replacement. A credible successor, that is, someone not tainted by transactions that now epitomise Maharashtra's political economy, is hard to come by. The greatest asset the Congress has had in the State these past few years is the opposition. The party was aided by a split in the Shiv Sena, a demoralised Bharatiya Janata Party, the absence of a credible ‘Third Force,' and at least five fragmented fronts during the last Assembly elections. So the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine won major victories at the polls even as its vote share declined.
A divided and inept opposition meant Congress-led governments could muddle through. But Maharashtra's latest embarrassments were the last thing the party ruling at the Centre — struggling to cope with other, national-level scandals — needed. It is not as though Mr. Chavan's predecessors performed any better. In the three years before the economic slowdown of 2008, Maharashtra lost two million jobs — 1,800 a day on average. In the 12 years before he took office, more than 40,000 farmers in the State committed suicide. In the year before Mr. Chavan came to power, food production fell 24 per cent. Close to a third of Maharashtra's population remained below the official poverty line. Mr. Chavan did nothing to improve any of this. Yet it is hard to spot a successor in his party or alliance who can. That is the agonising dilemma the Congress faces. The party has not produced a leader of Statewide standing since Vasantdada Patil. Given its own and the State's entrenched political culture, it seems unlikely to do better any time soon.