Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan (photo: ABP Live)
The crucial state election in Maharashtra is clearly wearing politicians down. Just before the state went to the polls, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan reportedly admitted that he could not take action against his Adarsh scam-accused predecessors Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Shinde and Ashok Chavan, as the Congress would then have been “decimated in Maharashtra”.
In a damning interview to The Telegraph, Chavan further reportedly claimed that he did not order proper investigations against former irrigation minister Ajit Pawar in order to keep the Congress-NCP alliance intact.
“Adarsh brought under the scanner Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Shinde and Ashok Chavan — the top Congress leadership in the state. If I had taken action against them, the party would have been decimated in Maharashtra. We could not shed them. If I had sent them to jail, it would have hit the party organisation — this was a major response. The party would have split,” Chavan allegedly told The Telegraph’s Samyabrata Ray Goswami.
The interview was published on October 14, one day before voting, though it is not clear if these last-minute revelations will affect voting patterns in an election that is seeing a four-way contest between BJP, Shiva Sena, Congress and NCP.
The Congress-NCP alliance has ruled Maharashtra for the past 15 years, so both parties face the huge hurdle of incumbency. And their problem is compounded by the fact that they have now broken their alliance and are contesting seats against each other.
Meanwhile, the BJP and Shiv Sena were earlier favourites to win the election, but their 25-year old alliance also split last month over the number of seats each partner would contest.
With the four main parties – two national and two regional – now slogging it out, the election appears too difficult to predict. All parties are appealing to the pride of Marathis and to the minority Muslim vote in order to get as many seats as they can.
When asked by Goswami why the Congress was campaigning using the slogan of “Marathi pride”, Chavan retorted, “What can we do? We have to fight many years of anti-incumbency. How do I counter that?”
The former chief minister, who resigned when the election schedule was announced, attacked his former deputy, the NCP’s Ajit Pawar, for corruption. Citing figures from the government’s economic survey, he pointed out that while Rs 42,000 crore ($7 billion) was spent on irrigation by the Congress-NCP state government – a period when Pawar was the irrigation minister – there was no actual increase in irrigation projects.
“From 1999 onwards Ajit Pawar was the minister concerned. A SIT (Special Investigation Team) was set up with members of all parties, including the BJP, but the NCP worked the back channels and ensured that it never investigated anything… I could have been proactive and I could have insisted… that Pawar should be summoned and questioned. But I was running an alliance… my hands were tied,” Chavan allegedly said.
“Short of sacking Ajit Pawar, I did everything. But sacking him would have brought down the government,” he admitted.
But after his comments were published, Chavan claimed that he was misquoted. "I was misquoted and certain parts in the interview are out of context," the Congress leader claimed on Tuesday.
But that did not stop the BJP from attacking Chavan for his alleged confesssion. “After Prithviraj Chavan’s self admission, there is nothing left for the Congress and NCP to fight the elections with. It ensured BJP is heading for a landslide victory in tomorrow’s assembly elections,” BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy declared.