Minutes after joining the BJP after a 38-year-stint in the Congress, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan made an epic faux pas by mistakenly referring to Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar as “Mumbai Congress President”.
The remark, clearly a slip of the tongue, left the senior leader red-faced and drew a round of laughter from BJP supporters who had gathered to welcome him into the party fold. Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was seen correcting him before laughing out aloud.
Apologising for the error, Mr Chavan said, “I have just joined (the BJP). Hence, the mistake. I am starting a new journey by joining the BJP after 38 years in the Congress.”
The heavyweight leader from the Nanded region said he has always been a part of “positive politics”. “The Prime Minister has taken a pledge for ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. Sometimes, I was accused of not opposing him. But I have always done positive politics,” he said.
The former Congress leader said he had set no terms for joining the BJP. “I will do what the party tells me to. I have asked for nothing. Nobody asked me to leave. This is my decision,” he said.
Mr Chavan yesterday resigned from the Congress and as a party MLA. His aide Amar Rajurkar, who resigned as MLC yesterday, also joined the BJP today. The former Chief Minister said he has not asked anyone to switch from the Congress to the BJP.
Mr Chavan is expected to file his nomination for the Rajya Sabha polls tomorrow. In fact, it is the deadline to file nomination for the election to the Upper House that expedited his BJP entry. Earlier, he had told the media that he would take a decision on joining any party after a couple of days.
He was invited into the party by Mr Fadnavis, state BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule and Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar, among others.
Addressing the media, Mr Fadnavis said any decision on Mr Chavan filing nomination for the Rajya Sabha polls will be taken by the central leadership of the party. He also said that the party knows how to utilise the senior leader.
The son of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Shankarrao Chavan, Ashok Chavan wields significant influence in Nanded region. His exit comes at a time when the Maha Vikas Aghadi — comprising the Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena, the Sharad Pawar camp of NCP and the Congress — faces two tall poll challenges.
Mr Chavan has held key roles in the Congress, including Maharashtra Congress chief and a member of the Congress Working Committee. He has served as an MP from Nanded on two occasions and been a member of both Houses of the state legislature.
After serving as state minister, he was chosen for the Chief Minister post after Vilasrao Deshmukh stepped down in the aftermath of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. The Congress retained him on the top post after the 2009 state polls. The stint was, however, short as Mr Chavan was forced to step down amid corruption allegations related to the Adarsh Housing Society scam.
Responding to a question on the corruption allegations, he said, “The court has ruled in our favour.”
Mr Chavan said the decision to quit the Congress was not an easy one. “I did not take this decision in a day. I have taken this decision for the people of my district. It is true that the Congress gave me a lot. But I have also served it well,” he said.
Congress leaders had earlier responded sharply to Mr Chavan’s exit.
Senior party leader Jairam Ramesh took a “washing machine” jab — washing machine is an oft-repeated reference the Congress uses to accuse the BJP of stalling criminal investigations against Opposition leaders who switch to their side.
“When friends and colleagues leave a political party that has given them much — perhaps much more they deserved — it is always a matter of anguish. But to those who are vulnerable THAT Washing Machine will always prove more attractive than ideological commitment or personal loyalties,” Mr Ramesh said.
Maharashtra Congress chief Patole said it is “unfortunate that leaders who have got everything are leaving the Congress party and ideology”.