Congress rewards Ashok Chavan with a second stint as Maharashtra CM

By Quaid Najmi, IANS,

Mumbai : The Congress leadership rewarded Ashok Chavan with a second term as Maharashtra Chief Minister for his good performance and record of winning two elections for the party within a gap of five months during his short tenure as CM early Sunday morning.

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The announcement was made a little after 12.30 a.m. by the Defence Minister and party leader A. K. Antony after a high-level meeting at 10 Janpath, the residence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, the 81 newly-elected legislators of Maharashtra had a meeting with the three central observers – Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, Defence Minister A. K. Antony and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rehman.

As indicated by the IANS yesterday, Chavan was considered as the front-runner for the CM’s post, though there was stiff competition from former Shiv Sena leader and chief minister Narayan Rane.

Even during last year, when Chavan replaced the current Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Rane had raised a banner of revolt but eventually chose to remain in the party.

Later, Chavan managed to mollify him and even inducted him into the cabinet, giving him the plum revenue portfolio.

Another ambitious person eyeing the post was Deshmukh. He apparently opted out of the race after a meeting with Gandhi in the capital Friday morning.

Chavan had secured the unexpected backing of former chief minister and Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.

Much earlier, Chavan’s prospects had been boosted before the elections. At a public rally in Nanded early this month, Gandhi had indicated that if the party returned to power Chavan would continue as the state chief minister as his performance was good.

The sources said that Chavan has already created a lot of goodwill in the party by overseeing two crucial elections during his short tenure as the chief minister.

First, it was the May 2009 Lok Sabha polls followed by the Oct 2009 assembly elections. In both, the Congress not only performed handsomely but improved its tally vis-a-vis its ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

In 2009 Lok Sabha, the Congress bagged 18 seats, compared to the 13 it held in the previous Lok Sabha. Its ally NCP bagged seven in May 2009 compared to nine it held in the previous 2004 Lok Sabha.

Their total comes to 25 in the 48-members of Lok Sabha from Maharashtra and the alliance also bagged all the six seats in Mumbai.

In the new assembly, the Cong-NCP alliance in the state named Democratic Front bagged a total 144 seats of which the Congress bagged 81 seats and the NCP secured 63 seats in the 288-member house.

In the outgoing house (2004), the NCP held 71 seats against the 69 seats held by the Congress – the alliance total coming to 140.