Chavan on chopping block

Last Updated 31 October 2010, 06:30 IST

Responding to late night summons from the Congress high command, Chavan flew in here on Saturday and met party president Sonia Gandhi for almost an hour. Sonia was reportedly “not satisfied” with his explanation.

Coming out of 10 Janpath, Chavan told newspersons that he had placed before Sonia all the facts relating to the Society and that he had welcomed the CBI inquiry into it.

“I am here, my resignation is also here. I have kept the truth in front of her... The truth should come out so that we can find out who all are responsible,” he said.
The meeting with senior Congress leaders, including A K Antony, took place in the backdrop of three of Chavan’s close relatives having been among  the 103 allottees in the 31-storey Adarsh Group Housing Society building in Mumbai in which several politicians, three former defence services chiefs and bureaucrats who have cornered flats originally meant for families of Kargil martyrs.

Congress sources said, coming in the wake of the Commonwealth Games’ massive scam, the party leadership was highly embarrassed and upset and it was only a matter of time before Chavan would be asked to step down.

Wait and watch
It is not clear, however, whether the Congress high command would wait until the US President Barack Obama––who is visiting Mumbai and Delhi as part of his India visit––leaves India on November 9.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, returning from his seven-day foreign tour, refused to comment on the scam and the offer by  Chavan to step down, saying he was not aware of all the facts.

“When I go back I will find out the facts. Only then will I be able to make any meaningful comment,” he said.

As the Opposition mounted pressure for Chavan’s ouster, the Congress set up a two-member committee of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Antony to probe the issue which has snowballed into a major controversy with the allegations that the chief minister knew about the irregular allotment in the housing society.
The allotments of flats were allegedly made to politicians, including the chief minister’s late mother-in-law and two other relatives, bureaucrats and top ex-Army officers. 

The main opposition BJP has demanded immediate resignation or removal of the chief minister, probe by a sitting judge  and cancellation of Occupation Certificate of the Society. “It is a case of nepotism and corruption,” the BJP said.

Chavan was revenue minister when the Adarsh Housing Society took shape and membership for the allotment decided. Two former Army chiefs Deepak Kapur, N C Vij and former naval chief Madhvendra Singh allegedly manipulated to pocket the house allotments. Some of them have now offered to surrender their flats.
With the Congress high command seized of the issue, the beleaguered chief minister has decided to stay put in the national capital until Sunday.

The top names for the replacement of Chavan doing rounds include Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Minister for Heavy Industries  Vilasrao Deshmukh and Prithviraj Chavan. Both Shinde and Deshmukh had been in charge of the state when the housing society came up and members were listed.

Shinde is from a backward caste, and a Gandhi loyalist. But what works against him is the fact that  he gave the final permission to Adarsh Society when he was the chief minister. Deshmukh, twice Maharashtra’s chief minister, had been forced to resign last time after the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes in 2008 with fingers pointing at him for failing to keep the commercial capital safe. He is also seen to have given permissions to Adarsh Society.

Prithviraj Chavan has a clean image and carries no past political baggage. A Maratha, his plus point is that he has no linkage with the housing scam. But he is not as experienced in state politics as the other two.  

State Minister Narayan Rane who also fancies himself to be a successor of Chavan may not be lucky as his wife is allegedly involved in a land grabbing scam in the state. Besides, he has a Shiv Sainik past.

(Published 30 October 2010, 09:01 IST)

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