The antidote to corruption exposed is the production of a Mr Clean. No political party, not even those spouting righteous rhetoric, can claim an abundance of these. And if the position is a key one — public, powerful, hemmed in by enemies, squeezed by pressures and swampy with temptation — the job of selecting the right person becomes even tougher. The Congress has managed to do this by catapulting the backroom golden boy, Prithviraj Chavan, into the chief ministerial chair of Maharashtra hard on the exit of Ashok Chavan pursued by the taint of corruption. With all his known skills in managing multiple tasks as minister of state in the prime minister’s office, Mr Prithviraj Chavan may need to draw on new resources in his public position. He will also have to work with the new deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar’s nephew, quickly put in by the Nationalist Congress Party chief to match Mr Prithviraj Chavan’s yet untested clout in western Maharashtra, from where both new incumbents come. Mr Sharad Pawar is obviously anointing his political heir in the state, but the hurried change of deputy chief also conjures up memories of the new chief minister’s history with the NCP chief: Mr Prithviraj Chavan’s loyalty to the Gandhi family was established at the cost of a fall from Mr Sharad Pawar’s favour.
It is never easy when coalition partners are covert rivals. For the new chief minister, this is only one of the numerous challenges he faces. Maharashtra has been receiving a number of checks in its growth path, and its treasury is not looking brilliant at the moment. Except in western Maharashtra, agriculture is still poorly, and promised infrastructure projects have stalled or are holding fire. Housing for example, now a particularly sensitive issue, needs a lot of cleaning up, and power, at a surplus till 1994-95, is running short. The state government has promised to straighten this out by 2012. Besides, Naxalites are haunting the border districts. Here, perhaps, the new chief minister may get sufficient help from the Centre. Reportedly, his brief is to provide a transparent and progressive government. That may take some doing, but the Congress has taken an assertive gamble. In the larger picture of its efforts to punish visible corruption — Suresh Kalmadi has gone, and A. Raja seems to be in the party’s sights — the exchange of one Chavan for another looks perfectly logical.