In November 2010, Chavan, who was a minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, was asked by the Congress high command to board the first available flight to Mumbai and take charge of the corner office on the sixth floor of Mantralya—the office of the Maharashtra chief minister at the state secretariat that has a majestic view of the Arabian Sea.
Media revelations that three close relatives of the then chief minister Ashok Chavan own flats in the controversial 31-storied building called Adarsh in the posh south Mumbai locality of Colaba had made Ashok Chavan’s position untenable.
The Congress party, which was already facing the music over the multi-crore 2G scam, coalfield scandal and commonwealth game scam, had no other options but to ask Ashok Chavan to step down.
One of the first major decisions of Prithviraj Chavan after taking over the reins of the state was to appoint a two-member judicial panel under the chairmanship of retired Bombay high court justice, J.A. Patil, to probe the Adarsh scam. The Patil panel’s report was tabled by the state government in the state legislature on Friday, but only after announcing that it has rejected the report.
It is obvious why the state government rejected the Patil panel’s report. The report indicted four former chief ministers of Maharashtra, which include present union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, late Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Chavan and Shivajirao Nilengekar-Patil, two ministers in the state cabinet, Sunil Tatkare and Rajesh Tope, and a dozen odd serving and retired top bureaucrats.
The panel found Ashok Chavan’s role particularly nefarious as he granted clearances to Adarsh and secured three flats for his close relatives.
However, the rejection of the report will return to haunt Prithviraj Chavan in the coming election season. The single act of protecting the corrupt from his party and cabinet is going to destroy the carefully built image of Prithviraj Chavan as a clean politician.
Prithviraj Chavan helped his predecessor not only by rejecting the Patil panel’s report, but also by advising governor K. Sankaranaryanan last week to turn down Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) plea to allow the agency to prosecute Ashok Chavan.
In fact, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government is now hardly left with anything to show in its report card on governance in the ensuing elections. The only asset this government perhaps possessed was its clean image of the chief minister.
After he took over the rein, Prithviraj Chavan had managed to bring in a perception among the public about the state government that he had managed to break the neta, babu, builder and contractor nexus in the state and rein in the evils of corruption, if not completely eradicate it.
Reacting to Congress’s defeat in the recently concluded elections in four state assemblies, Congress’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi promised to overhaul India’s grand old party beyond anybody’s imagination. Acknowledging an impressive debut of Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi, Gandhi even admitted that the Congress needs to learn many things from the AAP.
Notably, immediately after Parliament passed Lokpal Bill early last week to set up an anti-corruption ombudsman’s office, many Congress leaders hurried to give a spin on how Gandhi prevailed upon the government to get the draft law passed in the winter session of the Parliament itself and how the event promised the beginning of a new transparent and clean politics in India.
The Patil panel’s report had offered Congress party a perfect opportunity to show that it sincerely believes in Gandhi’s attempt to overhaul the party. However, the Congress has clearly squandered this opportunity by choosing to protect the corrupt elements within the party with regard to the Adarsh scam.
Challenge before the Bharatiya Janata Party
But a course correction shouldn’t be confined to the Congress. Even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition, who wants to presents itself as a better alternative to Congress, also needs to take tough action against the corrupt elements within its fold if they want to really convince the people that it is indeed a genuine alternative to the tried, tired and dynastic Congress.
In its report, the Patil commission observed that Abhay Sancheti, uncle of BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Ajay Sancheti, owns nine flats held in other names in the Adarsh society. It further pointed out that Sancheti’s company San Finance Corp. had given unsecured loans to nine individuals to purchase flats in Adarsh.
Sancheti is a Nagpur-based businessman and is considered to be a close aid of former BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Sancheti’s company SMS Infrastructure’s name figured in the list of companies named by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that were allotted blocks although they were ineligible for the allotment.
In this backdrop, it will be interesting to see whether BJP will take up the issue of Adarsh housing scam to its logical end, as promised by the party’s state leadership.