Chavan new Maharashtra chief minister, dejected Rane revolts (Roundup)

December 5th, 2008 - 10:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiMumbai, Dec 5 (IANS) Industries Minister Ashok Chavan was Friday named chief minister of Maharashtra to succeed Vilasrao Deshmukh, who quit in disgrace after the Mumbai terror attacks. But the decision by Congress president Sonia Gandhi sparked a revolt by the veteran Narayan Rane, who too was in the race for the top post.Chavan, 50, son of the late and two-time chief minister Shankarrao B. Chavan, was chosen over Rane, formerly from the Shiv Sena and who has been pressing the Congress for months to give him the reins of Maharashtra, one of India’s most industrialised states with Mumbai as its capital.

Chavan was minister for cultural affairs, industries, mines and protocol in the Deshmukh government. The 50-year-old management graduate has been representing the Mudkhed constituency in Nanded district in the assembly since 1999.

Considered a political lightweight, Chavan is believed to have been picked for his long-time loyalty to the Congress — in contrast to Rane who joined the party only in 2005 after leaving the Shiv Sena.

The announcement about Chavan was made in New Delhi by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who said that Chavan Jr would be the next Congress legislature party leader in the state assembly, paving the way for him to be the chief minister.

“Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) has communicated that Ashok Chavan will be the leader of the legislature party,” Mukherjee announced, even as Rane began to hit out at the party after realising that he was being sidelined.

Mukherjee said he and Defence Minister A.K. Antony interacted with Congress legislators from Maharashtra in Mumbai Thursday and that they all felt that Sonia Gandhi should pick the chief minister.

A bitter Rane, a former chief minister, announced hastily at his residence that he was opting out of the race for chief ministership and accused Deshmukh of manipulating the Congress decision.

He thundered that Chavan was not qualified to be the chief minister.

In New Delhi, a peeved Congress accused Rane of violating party discipline and pledged action against him. Rane retorted that he was not scared.

He described as a “farce” the six-hour meeting with legislators Mukherjee and Antony had. “The legislators were told that if they wanted party ticket for the next elections, they should give Chavan’s name. Yet 40-45 legislators proposed my name. This is why the party could not announce the name last night.”

Speaking in Mumbai, chief minister-designate Chavan said the security of Maharashtra would be his “top priority”.

Speaking candidly, he said: “The aam aadmi (common man) is not concerned who is chief minister or deputy chief minister. They just want the government to be strong.” He said it was important for his government to deliver.

His father, Shankarrao Chavan, was chief minister twice - between February 1975 and May 1977 and later from March 1986 to June 1988.

The appointment comes at a critical juncture in the state’s 48-year history when Mumbai has been traumatised by terror attacks, including last week’s that left 172 people dead and over 250 injured.

Hailing from Nanded in Marathwada region, Chavan joined active politics barely two decades ago and was elected as a Lok Sabha member from his home district.

Later, he was elected to the State Legislative Council and served as a junior minister in Sharad Pawar’s government in 1993. In 1999, he became a cabinet minister for revenue in the state government.

In the Sushilkumar Shinde ministry, he held the portfolios of transport, sports and cultural affairs.

Chavan’s announcement came hours after the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), its ally in Maharashtra, named Chhagan Bhujbal as the deputy chief minister to succeed R.R. Patil, who too quit after the Mumbai mayhem blamed on terrorists from Pakistan.

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