Home / Politics / Policy /  A brief history of Maharashtra’s chief ministers

Devendra Fadnavis, president of the Maharashtra unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from Nagpur South-West, has been elected the new chief minister of Maharashtra.

Fadnavis will be Maharashtra’s 18th chief minister and the BJP’s first. Fadnavis is also the fourth CM from the Vidarbha region, following the footsteps of following Marotrao Kannamwar, Vasantrao Naik and his nephew Sudhakarrao Naik, all of whom belonged to the Congress party.

The CM’s office in Maharashtra, an immensely significant state in the bigger national picture, has been occupied by some of its strongest leaders, more ambitious among whom have used it as a springboard to assume national importance.

Early days

Following the creation of the Maharashtra state in 1960, late Congress stalwart Yashwantrao (YB) Chavan was elected as the first chief minister of the state. However, in 1962, after then defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon resigned, Chavan was moved to the Centre, taking over Menon’s portfolio — a post he held till 1966. Chavan also held other portfolios, notably finance (1970-1974), external affairs (1974-77), and home (1966-70 and 1979-1980). During his second stint as home minister, Chavan also became the fifth deputy prime minister of India.

Y.B. Chavan was replaced as chief minister by Congress’ Kannamwar, Maharashtra’s second chief minister (1962-63), who held office for little over a year. He hailed from Chandrapur district in Vidarbha and passed away while in office.

The void created by Kannamwar’s demise was briefly filled by the then Maharashtra home minister P.K. Sawant, who held the chief minister’s post for 10 days, before being replaced by Vasantrao Naik. Naik served for nearly three-and-a-half years (December 1963 to March 1967) and subsequently led the Congress to a rousing victory in the assembly elections that followed, winning 203 out of the 270 seats. Naik, who like Kannamwar hailed from Vidarbha, has the unique distinction of becoming the first and only Maharashtra chief minister to finish his full term of five years (1967-1972), an achievement he managed during his second stint. In 1972, as incumbent chief minister, he led a successful election campaign for the party, with the Congress winning 222 seats in the 288-member state assembly.

The emergence of Maratha strongmen

However, in 1975, following the proclamation of Emergency in the country, Naik was replaced by Shankarrao (SB) Chavan, considered to be a trusted loyalist of then prime minister Indira Gandhi. S.B. Chavan was elected for three terms (1967, 1972, 1978) from Bhokar in Nanded district, now represented by his daughter-in-law Ameeta (wife of Ashok Chavan). SB Chavan served till April 1977, a couple of weeks after Emergency was lifted following Indira Gandhi and her party’s massive defeat by the Janata Party.

Vasantdada Patil, formerly an irrigation minister in S.B. Chavan’s cabinet, replaced him as the chief minister. Patil is considered to be the first real mass leader from Maharashtra. He remained in office till a year later, when in 1978, the state went to polls yet again. The Congress, still reeling from its humilating defeat at the hands of the Janata Party in the 1977 general elections, went through a split. Following the results of the state elections, Patil headed a Congress-led coalition governnment, with the other faction — Congress (Indira). Nashikrao Tirpude, then of the Congress (I), became the first deputy chief minister of the state. However, dissent within the Congress meant Patil was ousted as chief minister by his own partyman, Sharadrao Govindrao Pawar, who became the state’s youngest chief minister.

Pawar broke away from the Congress and formed the Progressive Democratic Front government with the Janata Party’s support, along with a few defectors. Pawar’s first stint as chief minister lasted 580 days. The state was put under President’s Rule for the first time in 1980, before elections were called in, and the Congress, with 186 seats out of 288 was back in power. The state elected its first Muslim chief minister in 1980, when Abdul Rehman Antulay was given the job. Two years later, Antulay had to resign as chief minister after he was convicted by the Bombay high court on extortion charges.

Scandals, dissentions and resignations

Following Antulay’s resignation, the state underwent a rather turbulent phase, with chief ministers enjoying short stints at the job. Babasaheb Bhosale, chosen to succceed Antulay in 1982 by Indira Gandhi, lasted only 377 days. He was replaced by Vasantdada Patil in February 1983 for his third stint as CM. Patil had a longer stint as chief minister this time around, lasting till the 1985 assembly elections for a total of 851 days. Patil was succeeded by Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar, who lasted 277 days at the top. He had to resign in 1986 after the Bombay high court passed strictures against him in connection with a scam related to medical exam results.

After Nilangekar resigned in 1986, the Congress turned back to its old hand, S.B. Chavan, to help ride out the crisis. Chavan, now chief minister for the second time, lasted till 1988, when he was replaced by Sharad Pawar. Pawar, keen to consolidate his position as the most influential Maratha leader, lasted nearly two years in his second stint, before leading the Congress to victory in the 1990 polls, when it won 141 seats. With the help of 12 independents, Pawar became the chief minister for the third time.

The following year, during the hectic jostling for a post-Rajiv Gandhi leadership within the Congress party, Pawar mounted an ambitious, failed bid to become prime minister. When P.V. Narasimha Rao was elected prime minister in 1991, Pawar was made defence minister in his cabinet. Back home in Maharashtra, Sudhakarrao Naik, Vasantrao Naik’s nephew, replaced Pawar as chief minister following his elevation to the Centre. Naik was CM when riots took flared in Mumbai in late 1992. He was severely criticised for his inability to stop the riots. Naik resigned in 1993, and Pawar returned to state politics, becoming chief minister for the fourth time, holding the post till elections in 1995.

The coalition era

Manohar Joshi, a Brahmin, became the first non-Congress chief minister of Maharashtra, after the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, along with a bunch of independents or former Congress ‘rebels’ came together to form the government. Joshi’s reign lasted four years, before he had to resign following a land scam. Joshi was replaced by party colleague Narayan Rane.

The Congress, upon its return to power in Maharashtra, formed the next government with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Latur’s Vilasrao Deshmukh was the state’s new chief minister. His stint began in 1999 and lasted till 2003, when increased factionalism within the party’s state unit resulted in him being replaced by another Marathwada leader, Sushil Kumar Shinde.

Shinde became Maharashtra’s first Dalit chief minister, and led his party into the 2004 state assembly elections. After the Congress-NCP returned to power, Deshmukh was once again installed as chief minister, with Shinde moving to the Centre. However, Deshmukh had to resign following the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, when after a brief political hiatus, he was rehabilitated at the Centre. Former CM Shankarrao Chavan’s son, Ashok Chavan, known back then for his “clean image," replaced Deshmukh and led the party in the 2009 assembly elections.

In 2009, the Congress-NCP alliance, dodging 10 years of anti-incumbency, retained power for the third straight time. Ashok Chavan was re-elected chief minister, but following the Adarsh housing society scam, Chavan was asked to resign from the post. He was replaced by Prithviraj Chavan, a former minister of state in the Central government, who stayed as chief minister for four years. Prithviraj Chavan had to resign from his post after the NCP broke its alliance with the Congress before the 2014 assembly elections. This meant Maharashtra had a second spell under President’s Rule.

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