Amidst growing speculations of his intention to switch allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan resigned from the Congress party on Monday, ending his family’s longstanding association with the grand old party.
He, along with a few Congress MLAs, is likely to join the BJP in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah later this week. However, Mr. Ashok Chavan said he had not decided to join any party yet. “The decision to quit the Congress is a personal one. I will clear my stand on joining a party after 48 hours,“ he said, adding that he was not in touch with any MLAs of Congress.
Key insiders in the Congress revealed that Mr. Ashok Chavan met with party president Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi on Saturday, apprising them of his decision. According to sources, he told Mr. Kharge that he was “facing immense pressure from the Enforcement Directorate”.
Mr. Ashok Chavan, son of the late Defence Minister and two-time Maharashtra Chief Minister Shankarrao Chavan, submitted his resignation to Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nana Patole. Later, he also met Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar and tendered his resignation to the House. He represented Bhokar Assembly constituency in Nanded district.
Notably, his letterhead now reflects his designation as “former MLA”, where he drafted the word “former” in Marathi with a pen.
Speaking to The Hindu, a senior BJP leader confirmed that the 65-year-old former Chief Minister will join the party, bringing along a group of supporters from the Marathwada region. Speculation was rife that Mr. Ashok Chavan may secure a Rajya Sabha berth from the BJP.
‘Wait and watch’
When asked about Mr. Ashok Chavan’s potential entry into the party, senior BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said: Aagey aagey dekho hota hai kya (wait and watch what happens.) “I learned about Mr. Chavan from the media. However, what I can affirm is that several prominent leaders from Congress are in contact with the BJP. Leaders associated with the public are expressing dissatisfaction within Congress. I am confident that some prominent figures will switch to the BJP,” he said.
Rumour had it that three more Congress MLAs — Mohan Hambarde, Jitesh Antapurkar and Vishwajit Kadam — were likely to leave Congress.
Later in the day, Mr. Ashok refuted claims that the white paper tabled in Parliament prompted him to resign from Congress. The white paper mentioned the Adarsh Building scam, pertaining to a housing society in Mumbai, due to which he had to step down as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 2010. He first took over as the Chief Minister in 2008, in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
The discord between Mr. Ashok Chavan and Mr. Patole likely influenced his choice to change allegiance, a senior leader from Congress told The Hindu. “Mr. Chavan always expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Patole’s role as MPCC chief, his decisions and consistently held him responsible for the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government,” he said.
As there were reports since the last few months that Mr. Ashok Chavan would be quitting Congress, the news of his resignation did not come as a total surprise to the State party leaders.
“Mr. Chavan’s decision doesn’t come as a surprise. It has been in the works for years, and the high command has been informed about it repeatedly. Nanded district, Mr. Chavan’s hometown, has a significant Muslim and Dalit population, traditionally strong supporters of the Congress. While leaders may change, our grassroots cadre remains intact,” Mr. Patole told The Hindu.
Further, the Maharashtra Congress chief, who rushed to Delhi after Mr. Chavan’s announcement to resign from the party, said that the current political battle revolved less around ideology and more around apprehensions of the ED, CBI, and Income Tax.
“Mr. Chavan, despite the party’s historical roles for his family—his father serving as Chief Minister twice and holding significant positions like Defence Minister— has opted to leave. He was made CM twice by the party and held several key portfolios in various governments. It’s clear that the primary concern now seems to be investigative agencies and nothing else,” Mr. Patole added.
Echoing similar views, former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, said that Mr. Ashok Chavan’s move had been talked about for a long time, but they didn’t think he would take such a decision. “He was made CM on two occasions. What went wrong? Who was he upset about – only he can tell about this. All our MLAs are together and the BJP leaders are spreading rumours that some are in touch with them,” he said, adding that voters will teach those who deserted them a lesson.
In response to the defection rumours, several Congress MLAs, including Leader of Opposition Vijay Wadettiwar, had explicitly stated that they had no intentions of leaving the party.
“I have no plans to quit the Congress. I have been working with Mr. Ashok Chavan from 2006 and was twice a minister in his cabinet. He did not discuss anything with me. We do not know the reason. But the manner in which BJP is breaking parties, people have not liked this and they will give a befitting reply in this election,” he said.
‘Matter of anguish’
AICC General Secretary (Communications) Jairam Ramesh, without naming Mr. Ashok Chavan, said that an exit by betrayers “opens up vast new opportunities to those whose growth they have always stunted”.
“When friends and colleagues leave a political party that has given them much — perhaps much more (than) they deserved — it is always a matter of anguish,” he said. “But to those who are vulnerable, THAT Washing Machine will always prove more attractive than ideological commitment or personal loyalties. These betrayers don’t realise that their exit opens up vast new opportunities to those whose growth they have always stunted,” he added.
Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi chief Prakash Ambedkar said the BJP will pay a heavy price for practising the politics of tod-phod (breaking parties).
“We have never seen such politics in the last seven decades. Now we see uncertainty and unprecedented politics in the state. The Marathi manoos does not endorse such politics,” he said.’
Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut expressed shock over Mr. Ashok Chavan’s exit from the Congress.