Prithviraj Chavan is Maharashtra CM; Union cabinet reshuffle likely

Prithviraj Chavan is Maharashtra CM; Union cabinet reshuffle likely

New Delhi: Prithviraj Chavan, 64, and until Tuesday the minister in charge of the Prime Minister’ Office and the ministries of personnel, science and technology, and parliamentary affairs is the new chief minister of Maharashtra and his appointment, by the Congress party’s leadership on Wednesday has, analysts say, increased prospects of a cabinet reshuffle in the Union government.

Chavan’s appointment comes after the party sacked the previous chief minister on Tuesday, after allegations that he was involved in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam where flats meant for war widows were allotted to prominent politicians and senior defence officers.

The Congress’ ally in Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), used the opportunity to replace the deputy chief minister.

The party substituted Chhagan Bhujbal with Ajit Pawar, nephew of party chief Sharad Pawar, ending a power struggle that began in 2009 soon after the assembly elections.

Chavan, an engineering graduate from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, Rajasthan and the holder of a post graduate degree from the University of California, enjoys the confidence of both party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, say analysts.

However, being chief minister of Maharashtra, where no chief minister except Vasantrao Naik has completed a five-year term (and that was from 1967 to1972), is not easy, say his colleagues in the Congress.

“Being Maharashtra chief minister is like holding your head in your hand," said a Congress leader from Maharashtra who did not want to be identified.

“Prithviraj Chavan has too many advantages. He has a good rapport with the party leadership, has a clean image, good experience in governance, proved administrative capabilities in getting the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill passed and is, above all, a Maratha from western Maharashtra," said Sanjay Nirupam, a Congress Lok Sabha member from the state.

But he “does not have a hold on state-level politics" said another Congress leader from the state.

Chavan, whose father D.R. Chavan was a minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, entered the Lok Sabha in 1991 from Karad, but lost to an NCP candidate in 1999. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2002 and 2008.

Asked about his priorities after taking office on Thursday, the media-friendly Chavan said: “I am not setting any priority now. We will discuss with all the former chief ministers and the NCP before taking any steps."

“The tasks and priorities are same (as that of former chief ministers). It depends on how he manages the factions and the ally," said Suhas Palshikar, professor in the department of politics and public administration at the University of Pune.