Chavan, Kalmadi go in Cong winter cleaning

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The Congress party on Tuesday sought to counter the “corruption plank” of the Opposition by forcing Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan to resign and axing Suresh Kalmadi as secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party against the backdrop of allegations of financial irregularities in the recent Delhi Commonwealth Games.

The election of a new chief minister for Maharashtra was delayed due to the reported move of the NCP to nominate Mr Ajit Pawar as deputy chief minister. The announcement of a new CM will be made on Wednesday, highly placed sources said here on Tuesday night, shortly after the Congress Legislature Party passed a one-line resolution authorising party chief Sonia Gandhi to elect a leader in place of Mr Ashok Chavan. The meeting was held in Mumbai on Tuesday night.
The Opposition has planned to put the Centre on the mat over the issues of the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai and the CWG mess-up during the Winter Session of Parliament which began Tuesday morning. But the Congress high command’s swift action against Mr Chavan and Mr Kalmadi might thwart the Opposition’s move.
The Congress’ priority is to get a “Mr Clean” to lead the premier state of Maharashtra where the Congress is still a major party even after running a coalition government for over 10 years. This was made clear by AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi who, when asked what he thought the next chief minister of Maharashtra should be, replied: “One who is capable and who can deliver.” Asked whether the new chief minister should have a clean record, he replied, “Of course.”
According to sources, a CM and deputy CM should not be from the same caste. A meeting of NCP legislators has been called in Mumbai on Wednesday amid speculation that the Sharad Pawar-led party might go in for a change in its team of ministers as well as the leader of the legislature group. It will be interesting to see whether it re-elects deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal as its legislature party leader or elects Mr Ajit Pawar.
NCP leaders Praful Patel, Tariq Anwar and D.P. Tripathi would be attending the meeting as central observers amid talk in political circles that Mr Ajit Pawar could press for being elected leader of the legislature party. Mr Ajit Pawar is the nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and has been representing the pocket-borough of Baramati in Pune district, held earlier by his uncle.
Meanwhile, the names of Union minister Prithviraj Chavan, Maharashtra ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and former minister Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil are doing the rounds for the post of chief minister. All of them are from the Maratha community and from western Maharashtra. If insiders are to be believed, Mr Ashok Chavan is lobbying hard for Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and his father Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil, who had rejoined the Congress from the Shiv Sena. They were Shiv Sena ministers in the Vajpayee and Manohar Joshi governments. On the other hand, Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is backing Mr Balasaheb Thorat. Mr Prithviraj Chavan is seen as the high command’s nominee.
Rahul Gandhi had reportedly backed Mr Ashok Chavan for the top post after the resignation of Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh in the wake of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Mr Chavan, considered the second light-weight chief minister after the late Babasaheb Bhosale, is the third CM to go in the wake of allegations of a scam.
Mr A.R. Antulay had lost the chief ministership in January 1982 following a cement scam coupled with a conviction in an extortion case; and in 1986 Mr Shivajirao Nilangekar Patil became a victim of the marks scandal. He had to quit as chief minister on the “inference” of a Bombay high court judgment on a petition that he had helped his daughter get her medical college exam marks upgraded.
The fate of Mr Ashok Chavan was sealed on the day (October 30) he was summoned to New Delhi by the high command and asked to “offer” his resignation. His diversionary tactics involving his successors — Mr Sushilkumar Shinde, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh and Mr Narayan Rane — did not convince the high command of his “innocence” in the Adarsh housing scam.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi constituted a two-member committee comprising senior leaders and Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony to look into the case and acted as soon as US President Barack Obama left for India after his three-day visit.
The Congress axed Mr Suresh Kalmadi as CPP secretary, a move seen as seeking to distance itself from the CWG Organising Committee chairman in the wake of allegations of corruption. “Suresh Kalmadi’s resignation as secretary of the Congress Parliamentary
Party has been accepted with immediate effect,” AICC general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said. Mr Kalmadi, a sitting Lok Sabha member from Pune, had been asked to put in his papers as CPP secretary earlier.
Mrs Gandhi’s decision came on the opening day of the Winter Session of Parliament in which the Opposition had threatened to raise the issue of alleged corruption in Games-related projects.
Mr Mukherjee made it clear that Mr Ashok Chavan’s resignation has been accepted on the basis of perception in the wake of the controversy over the Adarsh Housing Society scam. “I am not going to make a value judgment. It was not a regular inquiry commission. Nothing like that. We went on certain aspects. Political decisions are taken many times on perception and based on certain facts,” he told reporters.
To another question, he said, “Whatever has been done considering all aspects, has been done. Therefore there is no question of whether it is right or wrong. Nobody does something wrong deliberately. After due diligence, whatever has been done has been done.”
Top Congress leaders had gone into a huddle on Tuesday afternoon against the backdrop of political uncertainty in Maharashtra. Party president Sonia Gandhi held deliberations with AICC leader in charge of the state A.K. Antony, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister P. Chidambaram, law minister Veerappa Moily, parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, ministers of state for parliamentary affairs V. Narayanaswamy and Prithviraj Chavan, besides the political secretary to Mrs Gandhi, Mr Ahmed Patel.
After the meeting, which lasted over an hour, Mr Mukherjee told reporters he and Mr Antony were leaving immediately for Mumbai. The meeting was called to decide the party’s strategy during the current Parliament session. Mr Mukherjee, Mr Antony and Mr Patel also held a separate meeting with Mrs Gandhi on the Maharashtra issue.

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