‘INDIA Bloc Facing Local Issues in Seat Sharing, Maharashtra Cong Not Ready for Polls’: Ashok Chavan

Former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan on Thursday said the opposition INDIA bloc is riddled with seat-sharing issues that stem from a lack of management at a local level. He hit out at the Maharashtra unit of the Congress, saying preparations for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections are hardly visible and not moving as expected.

In an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18, Chavan reiterated what he said the day he left the grand old party — While he had no qualms with the central leadership, he had differences with the state unit of the Congress.

The BJP, which is part of the ruling ‘Mahayuti’ coalition in Maharashtra, nominated Chavan for the Rajya Sabha a day after he joined the party on quitting the Congress. Before filing his papers on Thursday, he visited the famous Siddhivinayak temple in central Mumbai to seek blessings of Hindu deity Ganesh.

“This is the commencement of my new political life,” he said after submitting the nomination paper.

With the Lok Sabha elections slated for April-May, it is the season of shifting political loyalties and Chavan is the latest to dump the Congress. Only recently, the Congress lost Milind Deora to the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena. And, both turncoats are among six candidates in the fray for the Rajya Sabha elections on February 27.

Excerpts from an interview:

You and your family have been associated with the Congress for more than 40 years. You have been a chief minister; your late father, Shankarrao Chawan, was one of the legendary chief ministers of Maharashtra. Why did you decide to disassociate from a party that you have had a decades-long association with, and join a party that you have opposed for so many years?

I do appreciate your views on this because we have been associated with the Congress for quite some time, at least more than 40 years. I don’t have any complaints about our national leadership, but when it comes to Maharashtra, with a serious situation like the Lok Sabha elections on hand, and rather being prepared for the election… then you have the INDIA problem. You can see that several of the colleagues have been slowly, gradually leaving the alliance, whether it is Mamata (Banerjee), Nitish Kumar and some others; important partners have been gradually moving away. We were highly hopeful that something would happen. But, for whatever reason, the AAP and others have also gradually left the alliance. The overall organisational issues in Maharashtra have taken a serious turn. For more than one-and-a-half years, things are not moving as expected. Election preparations are hardly visible. The political scenario is drastically changing by the day. The political problems, challenges are there. Despite the best leadership at the centre, the state unit has still not been able to meet expectations. And, there is hardly any strategy, or preparation. How are you going to face the elections? And when you talk about the national INDIA alliance, how are you going to add up the numbers expected? So these are some of the prime issues on everybody’s mind.

But, you talked about the INDIA alliance. I’ll talk about the national picture first, then come to Maharashtra. When you talk about the alliance and you refer to Nitish Kumar leaving, Mamata Banerjee saying she’s going to contest on her own; why do you think these parties are slowly but surely deserting the alliance? What is the reason for that?

There are seat adjustments, seat distribution issues as local problems are affecting seat-sharing issues. These are the main issues causing problems and the INDIA alliance has not been able to pick up on it. It is one of the reasons seat-sharing is not working out and, with the elections so near, will you be able to do something at the last minute? There is hardly any hope for that.

Well, seat-sharing is one part but what about the glue of being anti-BJP, anti-Modi? That was the reason why the INDIA alliance came together. That glue no longer holds.

That’s not the only issue on which the INDIA alliance could succeed. You see, only being anti-Modi, against the BJP government is not the issue. We have to be specific about the issues every time. Only criticising the prime minister is not going to fetch votes as you may expect. So, I think strategically there has to be a proper working on that. But, more than that, I would like to focus on Maharashtra that has definitely been a stronghold for the Congress. But, at the moment, I don’t see anything happening here… And that’s why I ultimately took a call to switch on to something better.

Let’s talk about Maharashtra. You have said in the press conference that you have differences with the local leadership. You are one of the senior-most leaders of the Maharashtra Congress and used to be a former CM. When you raised this with the central leadership, what was their response? How come they did not take your concerns or suggestions seriously?

No, I have been talking to our incharges who have been in Maharashtra. I have never personally criticised anybody; I am not the type of person who would like to say something behind someone’s back. Issues have been raised in meetings, before the incharges of the states but nothing has actually happened. I didn’t see any corrective measures being put in place, and elections are hardly a few weeks away. And with this sort of situation, how do you expect to take on the BJP?

More than 10 years ago, when you were chief minister, the BJP was at the forefront of the campaign to remove you on the back of corruption allegations. And now you’ve joined hands with the same party. Isn’t that ironic?

That’s okay. I mean, people really know that these issues were politically motivated. Since they were in the opposition, they raised issues against me personally. On those issues, I had to resign. I am aware of that. But, nothing personal about it. We have won the high court case in this matter… but more than that, that’s not an issue connected with my decision to leave the party. Let’s be very frank. But whatever has happened during that regime was also during the Congress regime. Not with the BJP regime.

So in the last few weeks, you have moved from the Congress to the BJP. You have Milind Deora who has moved from the Congress to the Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena. Why are, particularly in Maharashtra, Congress leaders leaving one after the other and joining either the BJP or other parties of the Mahayuti.

The future of the party is also your future. Whichever party you may belong to… We have seen the Congress. Once upon a time, to get a Congress ticket or nomination was as good as winning an election. That was the sort of craze and backing that the Congress enjoyed; the support of the masses and the people. During the leadership of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi as well. Those were the days. But, today, if you see the situation in Maharashtra, particularly all over the state, there is a problem. People are gradually moving because everybody has their own future. Also, you have to ensure that you build up the party as it responds to your plan or action… The leadership has to, the PCC president, the CLP leaders, the colleagues all have to come together. They have to bring the party together and take a call and take action. But, I am sorry to say, things are not working the way they should.

Looking forward to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and then this year there’s also the Vidhan Sabha polls in Maharashtra. The critics of the current government call it a hodgepodge coalition. The BJP is, of course, the strong pillar. But, you have half a Shinde Sena, half an Ajit Pawar faction and they don’t really stand a chance against the real Sena of Uddhav Thackeray or the real NCP of Sharad Pawar. What would you say to that? And, that the BJP is just using leaders from other parties because they realise that, in Maharashtra, the current government is on a weak wicket.

I think it is yet to be proven who enjoys the mass support, the public confidence. After the split of both these parties, there aren’t any elections that have taken place in Maharashtra. So, it’s difficult to judge who enjoys public support. I think once these elections take place, things will be clear as to who enjoys the real support of the masses and will decide the future of Maharashtra.

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