Ashok Chavan quits Congress

The former Maharashtra chief minister is likely to join the BJP on February 14

Mumbai: Senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan on Monday quit the primary membership of the party as well as resigned from the state Legislative Assembly. He is likely to join the BJP on February 14. However, he said he has not taken any decision yet.

Mr Chavan, who was authorised by the Congress to hold seat-sharing negotiations with the alliance partners in the state, is the third prominent exit in less than a month. Earlier, former Union minister Milind Deora joined the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and former Maharashtra minister Baba Siddique joined the Ajit Pawar-led NCP. Some more Congress leaders are also set to quit the party and join the ruling parties before the Lok Sabha election.

Mr Chavan sent his resignation from the membership of the Assembly to Speaker Rahul Narwekar in the morning. Subsequently, he also sent a one-line resignation to Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole.

Informing about his resignation, Mr. Chavan posted on his social media account: “Today, 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 Narvekar.”

Later, the 65-year-old Congress leader denied that he had taken any decision regarding joining the BJP. “I have been in the Congress since my birth. I worked for the party honestly till yesterday. But now I feel it is time to explore other options,” he said.

When asked about the reports of him joining the BJP, Mr Chavan said: “I have not taken any decision yet. I need some time to think about my future course of action. I will announce my decision in a couple of days.”

However, sources said Mr Chavan is likely to be formally inducted into the BJP on February 14 or 15.

Mr Chavan has been unhappy in the Congress for more than a year now. Though he never openly admitted it, he was miffed with state Congress president Nana Patole. According to a Congress insider, Mr Chavan and a few other senior Congress leaders felt that Mr Patole did not give them due respect and often kept them out while taking major party decisions.

According to sources, Mr Chavan had even raised the issue with the Congress high command and demanded a change of leadership in the state Congress, but his pleas were ignored.

Another former chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, and Congress legislative party leader Balasaheb Thorat expressed surprise over Ashok Chavan’s decision. Prithviraj Chavan said: “He was there with us till 5 pm yesterday (Sunday). He attended the meeting called by the party’s Maharashtra in-charge Ramesh Chennithala in Mumbai to discuss the party’s election strategy. It did not appear that he was upset with anything. We have no clue about what happened overnight. Only he can tell what were his compulsions or whether he was under any pressure from anyone.”

Mr Thorat said that Ashok Chavan wanted to continue the discussion on Monday. “After yesterday’s meeting, he told me that we will meet again at 11 am today (Monday) to discuss our strategy for the Rajya Sabha elections. But today, when I tried to contact him, he was unavailable,” Mr Thorat said.

Last week, Mr Chennithala had authorised Ashok Chavan along with Mr Patole and Mr Thorat, to negotiate seat-sharing for Lok Sabha elections with alliance partners on behalf of the Congress party. Accordingly, Mr Chavan attended all alliance meetings.

The Congress has denied that any more of its MLAs will join Mr Chavan. But the indications of Congress defections have been there for nearly two years now. In the Legislative Council elections held on June 20, 2022, several Congress legislators had cross-voted. As a result, the Congress’ first choice candidate Chandrakant Handore lost the election. He needed 27 votes to win. However, he received only 22 votes even though his party had 45 MLAs.

About 10 Congress MLAs, including Ashok Chavan, were not present in the Assembly during the trust vote moved by the Eknath Shinde government on July 4, 2022. However, the Congress did not take any action in both cases.

BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis did not confirm or deny the reports about Mr Chavan’s induction into the BJP. “I heard about Ashok Chavan from the media. But the only thing I can say now is that several good leaders from the Congress are in touch with the BJP. Those leaders who are connected with the masses are feeling suffocated in the Congress. I will only say Aage aage dekhiye hota hai kya, (wait and watch what happens next),” he said.

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