‘Mr Clean’ Chavan is next Maharashtra chief minister (Evening Lead)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI - Prithviraj Chavan, a politician with a clean image and a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Wednesday vowed to provide stability to Maharashtra after the Congress picked him as the new chief minister to succeed the tainted Ashok Chavan.

And in a rarity in Indian politics, the 64-year-old former engineer’s appointment was immediately hailed by every political party in Maharashtra who hailed his non-controversial political career that began with a chance meeting with the late Rajiv Gandhi.

In his first comments, Chavan said he was “highly honoured and humbled” by Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s decision to put him in charge of Maharashtra, one of India’s biggest and most industrialised states where the Congress shares power with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

“I seek the cooperation and support of all, and I promise I will do my best to give leadership to the state,” said the minister of state in the office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He said he would fly to Mumbai soon.

Chavan is widely regarded as a confidant of both Manmohan Singh and Gandhi with his and his own quiet style of functioning won him many friends both in the Congress and beyond.

That was more than evident once it became known that Chavan had been picked for the hot seat in Mumbai over contenders like Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil.

“It is a good selection, he will revive Maharashtra,” said NCP chief Sharad Pawar, a former chief minister whose shadow always looms large over the state. “He will have full support of the NCP.”

Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar has been chosen to assist Chavan as deputy chief minister, replacing Chhagan Bhujbal.

Political actors, however, underlined that Chavan would have to contend with a lot, including the scandal involving Mumbai’s Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society whose flats were cornered by military officers, officials and politicians when they were meant for families of soldiers killed in the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan.

And precisely because he has never been a part of Maharashtra politics until now, the state’s political parties felt he would be able to steer it to better times.

“We expect him to maintain stability in the state,” said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Madhav Bhandari. “Other Congress politicians have always brought a bad name to Maharastra. We expect Chavan’s clean image to bring stability.”

Samajwadi Party state president Abu Azmi agreed, saying Chavan’s clean image would help develop Maharashtra’s backward regions.

Shiv Sena MP Bharatkumar Raut warned: “The state is facing challenges in all areas. The new chief minister will have to tackle all these. We expect him to succeed owing to his clean, non-corrupt image.”

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) vice president Vagesh Saraswat also paid his tributes: “He is well-educated. Hence we expect him to lead the state to prosperity.”

Born March 17, 1946 into a Marathi family in Indore, Chavan is an engineering graduate from BITS Pilani, Rajasthan, and holds an MS degree from the University of California specialising in aerospace engineering.

He worked in the field of aircraft instrumentation and designed audio recorders for anti-submarine warfare in the US before returning to India and becoming an entrepreneur in 1974.

After meeting Rajiv Gandhi, Chavan was soon drawn into politics. He was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1991 and entered the Rajya Sabha in 2002 — where he is still a member.

Both his parents were MPs from Karad. His father, the late D.R. Chavan, was a minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet.

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