Congress axes Chavan, Kalmadi before winter session (Afternoon Lead)

November 9th, 2010 - 3:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi/Mumbai, Nov 9 (IANS) Hoping to blunt the opposition’s attack, the Congress Tuesday moved swiftly to axe tainted leaders Ashok Chavan as Maharashtra chief minister and Suresh Kalmadi as secretary of the parliamentary party just before the start of parliament’s winter session.

Kalmadi was asked to quit as the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) secretary in the wake of serious corruption allegations against him as head of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, informed sources said.

Chavan also had to step down after the Congress leadership accepted his resignation following allegations of his connections with the Adarsh housing scam.

He submitted his resignation to Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan, who asked him to continue till a successor is appointed.

“Pending inquiry, his offer of resignation has been accepted,” Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told IANS in the national capital.

It is learnt that Chavan had offered to resign Oct 30 when he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Gandhi had constituted a two-member team comprising Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to probe the allotment of Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society flats in Mumbai, originally meant for families of soldiers killed in the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan, to politicians, bureaucrats and military officials.

Chavan had come under the scanner after questions were raised on his role as revenue minister and revelations that one of the flats was owned by his mother-in-law. Names of some of his other relatives had also cropped up as beneficiaries of flats.

Protesting his innocence, Chavan told a press conference in Mumbai: “Everything will come out in the open after the inquiry, and my innocence will be provedÂ… I still enjoy the confidence of my leader (Sonia Gandhi).”

The Congress said soon a new leader would soon be named to head the state, ruled by a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) coalition.

A team of central party observers is expected to reach Mumbai later Tuesday. A meeting of Congress legislators is being called in the night around 10 p.m. to decide on Chavan’s successor, party insiders in Mumbai said.

Though no clear indications are available on Chavan’s successor, several names are doing the rounds - these include union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan and prominent Maharashtra leaders like Narayan Rane, Balasaheb Thorat and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, the sources said.

The reason for Chavan’s resignation not being accepted earlier was the visit of US President Barack Obama, who was to start his trip to India from Mumbai, it is learnt.

The axe also fell on Kalmadi, who was asked to resign as CPP secretary ahead of the winter session of parliament.

Opposition parties had planned disruptions of parliamentary proceedings to target the government over Kalmadi’s role in the alleged bungling of funds meant for the Oct 3-14 Games.

“That Kalmadi has offered his resignation should stand alone. That should not connect with the Congress at all,” party spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan told a private news channel.

But the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties were unimpressed. They brought up the issue of the 2G spectrum scam allegedly involving Telecom Minister A. Raja and said the Congress’ action was not enough.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Basudeb Acharia said in the Lok Sabha that scandal after scandal had dogged the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

“We have corruption in 2G spectrum allocation, then the Commonwealth Games and now the Adarsh housing cooperative society.”

He said the resignation of Chavan was not enough and demanded a thorough probe as well as a statement by the government on the “large-scale corruption and nepotism”.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj also lambasted the government for “rampant corruption” and pointed to a “bigger scam than the 2G, Adarsh and CWG”.

“Believe me, the government’s road development programmes are also rocked by scams.”

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