It is time for hectic political activity at Varsha, the official residence of Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, 50. A day after the election schedule was announced for the state, Chavan’s office is inundated with visitors, mostly MLAs. The CM looks tired and is not too keen to be photographed, saying he is exhausted. Often attacked by his detractors for being an accidental appointee seven months ago, the CM answers a wide range of questions put to him by Rana Ayyub.
The dates for the assembly elections have been announced and there is still no clarity over a Congress-NCP tie-up in the forthcoming elections.
We have made our own assessment of the political situation here and have briefed the Congress High Command.
Digvijay Singh’s statements that the NCP should merge with the Congress have ruffled many feathers. It is clear he said so to pressurise the NCP before elections. While Vilasrao Deshmukh and other senior leaders in the Congress have spoken of going it alone in the polls, you have always said that both parties should fight unitedly. Do you still think so?
I have already spoken about this issue and have said that at some places we are strong and at others, weak. The political scenario differs from place to place. Both have to think of what is favourable for them. As far as the merger goes, the NCP was part of the Congress and broke away only on the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. Today, Sharad Pawar is a cabinet minister in the UPA government and Mrs Gandhi is the chairman of the UPA. Since he has already accepted her leadership, where’s the issue? In this situation, if the NCP merges with the Congress, it will be welcome.
Your party is seeing internal dissidence. Vilasrao Deshmukh and Narayan Rane — both contenders for the CM’s post have been lobbying against you.
There is no question of internal dissidence in my party. Minor issues can’t be called dissidence. There were certain differences within the state Congress which have been resolved. As far as Vilasrao and Rane are concerned, I am not aware of any lobby. I only work for the party and don’t take part in petty politics.
There have been talks of a third front in the state and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar has already sent emissaries to the RPI and various other Dalit parties in the state. Is a third front a feasible option and is the Congress also looking at creating a third front?
Yes, I have also heard about the formation of a third front. I don’t know the basis for such a move. The idea is to have a stable and secular government. By forming the third front, parties like the RPI, which have been keen on a secular government, will only be helping communal forces. It’s not in their interest to form a third front but it’s their decision. I don’t know if the NCP is actively party to such plans and I can’t make any official comment.
In the last elections, although the NCP got more seats than the Congress, the Congress retained the CM’s post. Will the Congress insist on the CM’s post this time too?
There can be no compromise on the post of CM, which will remain with the Congress, no matter what. There is no rethinking this issue.
You were made CM just after the 26/11 attacks, when the Congress had few options. You were called a compromise CM, a non-charismatic leader. Do you think you’ve been able to leave those tags behind with your performance?
I have heard of these names but I can’t rate my own performance – it’s for the people to decide what kind of CM I have been. I have worked with integrity and honesty. I wouldn’t want to pat my own back and say that I have been an efficient minister. I have had just a few months to work but I have done all I can.
Do you credit yourself for what the Congress has achieved in the state?
Most certainly. I am in charge of the party. I am the CEO of the state. Whatever has happened in the state has been under my guidance. I am the head of the state. We have given good infrastructure to Mumbai. We have brought about economic stability. What’s more, industrial investments have come in and farmers’ debts waived.
Your alliance is facing a severe incumbency backlash. The prices of essential commodities have risen and the drought has disenchanted rural voters. Uddhav Thackeray has been touring the rural areas and is likely to give a tough fight to the Congress.
Droughts are not new in our state. Every two or three years we face the problem of water scarcity and we are doing our bit. The price rise is an issue not just in Maharashtra, but also in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, states controlled by the BJP. But we still subsidise the prices of essential commodities and have taken crucial decisions on this count. The government has spent about Rs 150 crores in subsidies.
Your government has announced sops of about Rs 70,000 crores in the last three months alone. Is this not just to lure the voters? Where will you get the funds from?
I have had just a few months to perform and therefore I will give out sops. How the funds will come is a matter of financial management.