Can Prithviraj Chavan become the Manmohan Singh of Maharashtra? The new chief minister of Maharashtra shares many qualities with the man he has worked for and who he admires. Both Singh and Chavan are well-educated, thoughtful and honest.
They also share the same handicap: the lack of a strong political base. This can sometimes be used to advantage as it allows the head of government to operate from a vantage position that is beyond the gravitational pull of sectional interests. But it also makes him dependent on the whims of a political benefactor. Such creative tension is evident in the Manmohan Singh government.
There is no doubt that Maharashtra needs someone like Chavan to recharge its administration and address problems ranging from the urban chaos in Mumbai to the farmer distress in Vidarbha. The state continues to have immense comparative advantage because of its historical headstart in industrialization and the presence of Mumbai as a port and financial centre. However, neighbouring states such as Gujarat and Karnataka are attractive investment destinations. New Delhi is fast emerging as a robust competitor as headquarters for Indian and multinational companies.
Maharashtra continues to be one of the biggest destinations for investment, but it has been cursed by a directionless political leadership. There have been clear incentives for this myopia and lack of interest in genuine development. No chief minister has been able to complete his full term in recent years, so grab and run has been the dominant strategy. The astronomical price of land in Mumbai has become a curse. Land deals have replaced sugar as the oil that lubricates political machines.
Chavan will need political cover from New Delhi in his initial months, as he tries to introduce policies that will unsettle years of corrupt alliances between land sharks and politicians. He will also have to prove that the skills he used during the negotiations for the India-US nuclear deal are relevant for the renewal of agriculture in his state or easing the power crisis, an issue that is close to his heart.
All said, the Congress has done well to finally put a good man in Mumbai.
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