Ashok Chavan gets advance b’day gift – second stint as chief minister

By Quaid Najmi, IANS,

Mumbai : For Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, his birthday Wednesday will be extra special. Three days before he turns 51, the Congress offered him a rare gift – the powerful post of chief minister for a second time.

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With this, he becomes only the fifth among the state’s 14 chief minister in the past 50 years who have held the august position twice.

Prior to him, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sharad Pawar, Vasantraodada Patil and S.B. Chavan (Ashok Chavan’s father) had held the position on more than one occasion.

It is also the first time that a father and son have occupied the post – both of them twice – making the MBA-qualified Chavan Jr. a true chip off the old block.

After a daylong drama which ended after midnight, Chavan was handpicked in the early hours Sunday by Congress president Sonia Gandhi for a second consecutive time to lead the state – bypassing strong and experienced contenders like former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Narayan Rane.

For a politician with barely 20 years in the field, Ashok Chavan has come a long way. He has a reputation of being accommodating, even towards foes – a trait that has seen him weather the toughest storms.

Starting his political career in his father’s footsteps, Ashok Chavan was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1987 when he was barely 30 – when Chavan Sr. was ruling the state in his second tenure.

In 1992, he was elected member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council (upper house) and later handled several portfolios as a junior minister. He grew in the party ranks and was state Congress general secretary from 1995-1999.

In 2003, Chavan became a cabinet minister and among the key portfolios he handled were ports, transport, industries and cultural affairs.

He continued holding different portfolios even when the Congress won for a second term in the 2004 elections.

The Congress probably did not want to repeat what many considered an error that time.

The 2004 elections were fought and won under the leadership of Sushilkumar Shinde, but the mantle surprisingly went to Deshmukh, who had been ousted barely a few months before.

In his second stint, Deshmukh continued for a little over four years before he was removed in the wake of the Nov 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks – and Chavan took over.

Though Chavan had barely enough time to prove himself or come out of the menacing shadows of stalwarts in the party and government, the two elections – April-May Lok Sabha and the just concluded state assembly polls – provided a golden opportunity to prove his mettle.

And he grabbed the chances to ensure handsome victories for the party in the Lok Sabha polls and the Oct 13 assembly elections — a tall order for any chief minister just 10 months in the office.

After Chavan was sworn in Dec 8 last year, he faced a revolt by Rane – but he took it in his stride and convinced the party to forgive and forget. Rane was inducted with full dignity and given the important industries portfolio in February this year.

Rane did not forget the good turn. Sunday morning, despite losing out in the chief minister’s race, Rane reciprocated by offering full support to Chavan in his second innings.

Chavan’s wife is Ameeta, a homemaker, and the couple have two teenaged daughters – Srijaya and Sujaya – who are studying in a Mumbai college.