Prithviraj Chavan completes a year in office

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Prithviraj Chavan
Mumbai, Nov 11: Having been pushed into the hurly burly of Maharashtra politics quite unexpectedly, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan faces the most important challenge of his tenure in the ensuing local bodies elections, as he completes one year in office today (Nov 11).

Chavan, who spent most of his political life in the corridors of power in Delhi, was catapulted to the highest political office in his home state from the relative obscurity of the backroom of the Prime Minister's office, after his predecessor Ashok Chavan had to step down in the wake of the Adarsh Housing Society controversy.

Managing a fractious coalition partner in Sharad Pawar's NCP, Chavan has weathered a string of farmers' agitations and accusations of indecisiveness, but pushed forward his pro-development and pro-reform agenda, in one of the most enduring strongholds of the Congress.

As many as 196 municipal councils, 27 Zilla Parishads, 305 panchayat samitis and ten municipal corporations including the Shiv Sena-controlled Mumbai civic body go to polls between December and March 2012.

The fact that the last three months have seen the Chavan government grapple with massive agrarian agitations--by onion, cotton and now sugarcane cultivators--have not made his task of putting up an impressive show at the hustings any easier. Rising food inflation and repeated petrol price hikes have made it even more daunting.

All through the year, Chavan has been accused by his ally NCP and opposition Shiv Sena-BJP of avoiding taking quick decisions, resulting in prolonged delays in clearing development projects.

Chavan himself admits that he is wary of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and feels that decisions must be taken in a transparent manner.

After he took over, he scrapped two plans for slum redevelopment approved by his predecessor and is reviewing other similar projects that had been hastily cleared.

Chavan's over cautious approach has not gone down well even with a section of Congressmen, who are critical of him for not appointing chair persons of various state-owned boards and corporations. Three vacancies in the council of ministers from Congress quota are also yet to be filled.

Chavan statements voicing displeasure over key portfolios like home, finance, power and planning being vested with the NCP has also been criticised by deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, whose agressive style of functioning is in stark contrast to that of the Chief Minister.

"Chief Minister has all the powers. In the case of Shahrukh Khan's film (My Name is Khan), which ran into trouble with Shiv Sena, the then Chief Minister Ashok Chavan had taken the control of the Home Department," Ajit Pawar, the outspoken nephew of NCP boss Sharad Pawar said, reacting to Chavan's oft repeated lament about Congress not having the key home portfolio.

The unease in the ruling combine became all too apparent when Chavan, while describing the pitfalls of coalition politics recently said some partners behaved as if they owned the departments.

"I have seen that personalities are important, while working in a coalition. In Delhi, some in the coalition behave as if they are owners of the departments. Here also, the situation is somewhat similar," Chavan said, in an apparent jibe at NCP.

Chavan's decision of dissolving the board of directors of the NCP-controlled Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank in the State, the apex bank which reported negative net worth, also upset Ajit Pawar no end.

The Chief Minister has also often spoken about how the split in the Congress effected by Sharad Pawar in 1999 had weakened the state.

Notwithstanding the criticism, the Chavan quietly pushed forward his development agenda and the 9,900-MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Ratnagiri district, and proposed new international airport in Navi Mumbai were cleared soon after he took over. However, both projects continue to be mired in controversies.

Another noteworthy development was the green signal to India's second sea-link project, the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, which would connect Mumbai island with the mainland in Raigad.

One of the sore points in his first year in office was the July 13 triple bomb blasts in Mumbai which left 26 dead and 130 injured. Though claims have been made about breakthrough, the case is yet to be cracked.

PTI

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