On tenterhooks, CM seeks relief in Delhi

New Delhi : Fighting with his back to the wall, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan spent a day knocking several doors – beginning with President Pranab Mukherjee in Rashtrapati Bhawan, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and then proceeding to have strategy sessions with senior party leaders – A K Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad before he had a crucial meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Chavan had rushed to the capital after it became known that the party had decided to depute two Central observers – Azad and Antony to assess the opinion of the members of the party’s legislative wing in Mumbai. In the power game played within the Congress, the decision to appoint observers is the surest sign that the party leadership has made up its mind about changing a chief minister.

There are strong reasons for the party to be persuaded that under Chavan’s leadership in the state it is doomed for failure in the next assembly elections within a few months. In May, the party came down from 17 Lok Sabha seats to two, and there is a long list of complaints against him by his own legislators. Besides, the NCP which is an ally of the Congress for the last 15 years, has let it be known to that Chavan is no longer acceptable to them as the chief minister.

But Chavan’s meeting with Mukherjee described as a courtesy call, the euphemism that is always deployed on such occasions, does raise a serious question as to whether Pranabda, as he is referred to, still has a role in Congress politics? He was indeed, the party’s chief troubleshooter before he moved on to the Rashtrapati Bhawan in 2012. More, Chavan’s meeting with ex-prime minister Singh is also seen more like a distress call, rather than a courtesy one, considering that he acquired considerable clout while working in the Prime Minister’s Office as a junior minister.

However, after his meeting with the Congress president, Chavan did not make any formal announcement that he has been granted the licence to complete his term at Mumbai’s Mantralaya. There were indications that he is waiting for a meeting with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. There have been hints of an argument from his side that the party leadership should not succumb to pressure from the NCP about a change in leadership. “The NCP cannot decide the Congress chief minister,” runs the argument.

However, the party is reeling under the worst defeat of its more than 125-year-long history. It is in a major rejig mode, and such old fashioned arguments that have lost their relevance on the ground – Chavan brought down the party’s tally from 17 to 2 whereas Pawar could manage to retain at least 4 out the 8 seats speak volumes for the contrast between the two. As he displays an oral invite to attend a June 28th meeting of the A K Antony committee appointed to go into the reasons of the defeat as the proof that he is not going soon, Chavan seems to have set the contours of his tenure.

Gogoi, Hooda also meet Sonia

It is not just Chavan whose fate is in the balance. Two other Congress chief ministers – Tarun Gogoi (Assam) and Bhupinder Singh Hooda (Haryana) are also facing the heat after the dismal performance of the party in the Lok Sabha elections. Both of them had meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday. Gogoi could be on his way out as dissident leader Himanta Biswa Sharma who claims the support of the majority of the party MLAs in Assam also had a meeting with Gandhi. The party is likely to depute central observers to Guwahati next week.  But Hooda seems to have survived because of the TINA (there is no alternative) factor and due to his proximity to the Gandhi family.

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