A house of shadows, a party of pawns

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Vijay ShimaBy Vijay Simha
Deputy Editor

GRABBING A house is, presumably, different from grabbing an ice cream. It is possible therefore that Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashokrao Chavan did not suddenly rise from bed and decide to get his wife’s family a few Adarsh houses they were not entitled to. It takes years of practice to reach such a conclusion. It does not matter that you don’t need another house. It does not matter that you are breaking laws. It does not matter that you are chief minister and thus have moral obligations. Conscience takes time to die. The Congress has worked hard to reach where it has. Good at managing risk; terrible at providing leadership.

Either the Congress progresses or Maharashtra regresses. We are at an important moment
Either the Congress progresses or Maharashtra regresses. We are at an important moment

The Congress considers Maharashtra its own. It has always headed the government here, barring a four-year Shiv Sena spell in the late 1990s and a two-year spell in the late 1970s, when Congress rebel Sharad Pawar was at the helm. That’s 44 years in control. It makes Congressmen treat Maharashtra the same way they might treat family and junior colleagues, with a sense of impudence. This was the impulse that made Vilasrao Deshmukh, Chavan’s predecessor, saunter in the Taj in the wake of 26/11 with an actor and a director. It’s the same impulse that makes Chavan greed for houses. In the UK, some MPs had to quit after it was revealed they padded expense accounts. Here, the Congress offers berths at the Centre to immoral chief ministers.

A response system thus distorted creates people of a particular nature. Behaviours are repeated and so are consequences. A party with a diminished sense of right and wrong erodes the quality in its cupboard. Now, when they need to replace Chavan, the Congress finds the landscape bare. They need to find character, which is a mile away. The best bet appears to be a choice between Prithviraj Chavan, a 64-year-old instrument engineer who is pro-free market and pro-GM, and Gurudas Kamat, a 56-year-old lawyer and former management student. Prithviraj Chavan is minister in the PMO, trusted by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi and thus far clear of scandal. Kamat is a minister of state for communications and IT. He has been past head of the Mumbai Congress and has also been free of taint so far.

But whatever the Congress does, the DNA remains. In the 1960s, YB Chavan and SK Patil were the Congress biggies in Maharashtra. Chavan, the first chief minister, made his name by dealing with people and was among the first aam aadmi Congress bigwigs here. Patil was a Mumbai don. He hated communists and he hated the pro-Left Krishna Menon, who was once defence minister under Nehru. Patil worked with Bal Thackeray to help create the Shiv Sena, and used the Sena to hound the Left out of Mumbai. Until George Fernandes defeated Patil in a stunning 1967 upset, Patil did pretty much what he wanted. He was, by the way, among the first to say that Bombay should be made a city state. Point being, there are no rules for the Congress in Maharashtra.

Today’s Patils are the Deshmukhs and Ashokrao Chavans. They don’t use muscle. They prefer to murder by money. The worst that might happen to Ashokrao Chavan is he could be moved to Delhi. He’ll still play the game, but he won’t be in the driver’s seat. The worst that might happen to the Congress is it might be a while before it is business as usual. The ordeal is for Maharashtra whose politicians are losing character by the minute. If you’re stealing from widows, you’ve reached an important moment. Either the Congress progresses or Maharashtra regresses.

Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri

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