The Congress in Maharashtra was jolted again on Monday as top leader and former chief minister Ashok Chavan left the party. The 65-year-old is the third influential leader from the state to quit the party in less than a month. Former union minister of state Milind Deora resigned from the Congress on January 14 followed by erstwhile Maharashtra minister Baba Siddique last week, with both citing internal party problems and that they were not being given opportunities. Chavan so far has not explained his reasons.
“I hereby submit my resignation from the primary membership of the Indian National Congress Party with effect from 12/02/2024 noon,” he said in a statement.
Ashok Chavan met Maharashtra speaker Rahul Narwekar early on Monday morning. Later, his resignation letter from the primary membership of the Congress went viral on social media platforms. With a post on social media platform X, he confirmed that he had resigned as MLA of the Bhokar assembly constituency.
“Today i.e. on Monday, February 12, 2024, I have tendered my resignation as Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from 85-Bhokar Assembly Constituency to the Assembly Speaker Rahulji Narwekar,” said the post.
While speaking to the media, Chavan said that he would decide on his next move in two days.
“I will clarify my political stand in the next two days. As of now, I have not decided to join the BJP. I have no complaints about the Congress party or its leaders. However, I am considering exploring other options, which is why I have resigned from the party,” said Chavan.
As a top leader of the Congress, Ashok Chavan frequently held seat-sharing meetings for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections with Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance partners Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party. Chavan led many of these meetings along with senior Congress MLA Balasaheb Thorat.
Sources say Chavan being a Maratha has a very strong hold over the community, especially in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. His family had for long been seen as a Congress and Gandhi family loyalist. His late father Shankarrao Chavan was twice Maharashtra chief minister and also served in the union cabinet. Ashok Chavan became a junior minister, cabinet minister, and then chief minister of the state. His quitting the party is being seen as a big blow not only to the Maharashtra Congress but also to the central leadership. During the first leg of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, held from September 7, 2022, to January 30, 2023, Chavan was in charge of it in Maharashtra. His organisational skills were later applauded by the party’s national leadership.
Ashok Chavan started his political career in 1986 as general secretary of the Maharashtra Youth Congress and later became its vice president. In 1987, he won his first Lok Sabha election. In 1992, he became a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) of Maharashtra. In 1993, he was made the junior minister for the Home Department and Public Works Department (PWD). During 1995-1999, he was a secretary of the Maharashtra State Congress. In 1999, Ashok Chavan contested the state assembly elections for the first time and won, becoming a cabinet minister in charge of the Revenue Department. In 2003, he was made the Minister of Protocol along with Road Transport and Culture. In 2004, he was made in charge of the Industries Department.
From 2008 to 2010, Chavan was the chief minister of Maharashtra but had to step down due to the Adarsh scam. In 2014, he was asked by the party to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Nanded which he won. In 2015, he was given charge of the Maharashtra State Congress. In 2019, Chavan lost his Nanded seat, but the same year he won an election from the Bhokar assembly constituency and became the PWD minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government.
Observers say that with the Maha Vikas Aghadi out of power and facing several challenges, there was a buzz of Ashok Chavan and a few other leaders from the Maharashtra Congress switching to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to a top BJP source, there are attempts to bring down the Congress’s numbers in the state legislature so that all six Rajya Sabha seats from Maharashtra go to the ruling Mahayuti comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party, Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena, and Ajit Pawar-led NCP. In the present scenario, the Mahayuti can win five seats and the Congress one. But if the number of Congress legislators goes below 42, it may have to lose that Rajya Sabha seat.
In the previous phase of Rajya Sabha and legislative council elections in Maharashtra, the BJP’s efforts ensured the Maha Vikas Aghadi lost four crucial seats in both polls despite having the numbers.
According to sources, Ashok Chavan has been given two choices by the BJP leadership: he could either be sent to the Rajya Sabha or contest for the Nanded Lok Sabha seat. The Maratha community, which is disgruntled with the BJP over reservation issues, could be appeased by fielding Ashok Chavan from Nanded, said sources.
It would also be interesting to see, said observers, how many Congress leaders Chavan manages to take with him to the BJP.