Prithviraj Chavan, Ajit Pawar Brace for Maharashtra Innings

Mumbai, Nov 11 (IANS) Technocrat-turned-politician Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress was late Wednesday invited by Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan to form the next government in the state. Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party will be his deputy.

The swearing-in ceremony will be held at Raj Bhavan at 4.30 p.m. Thursday, official sources said here late Wednesday.

Prithviraj Chavan replaces Ashok Chavan, who resigned Tuesday in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing in the Adarsh housing society that was originally meant for war widows and the kin of those killed in the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan. Pawar takes the place of Chhagan Bhujbal.

Chavan and Pawar were accompanied by senior party leaders and officials, besides a huge crowd of excited supporters to meet the governor.

They staked the claim to form the next government in the state and also submitted their respective letters of support to the governor, comprising a total of 170 legislators from the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Earlier this evening, Chavan, a politician enjoying a 'Mr. Clean' image and a minister in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), vowed to provide stability to Maharashtra after the Congress picked him as the new chief minister, to succeed the tainted Ashok Chavan.

And in a rarity in Indian politics, the 64-year-old former aerospace engineer's appointment was immediately lauded by every political party in Maharashtra, who hailed his non-controversial political career that began with a chance meeting with the late Rajiv Gandhi.

In his first comments, Chavan said he was "highly honoured and humbled" by Congress president Sonia Gandhi's decision to put him in charge of Maharashtra, one of India's biggest and most industrialised states where the Congress shares power with NCP.

"I seek the cooperation and support of all, and I promise I will do my best to give leadership to the state," said the minister of state in the office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Chavan is widely regarded as a confidant of both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, with his own quiet style of functioning winning him many friends in Congress and elsewhere.

That was more than evident once it became known that Chavan had been picked for the hot seat in Mumbai over contenders like Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil.

"It is a good selection, he will revive Maharashtra," said NCP chief Sharad Pawar, a former chief minister whose shadow always looms large over the state. "He will have full support of the NCP."

Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar has been chosen to assist Chavan as deputy chief minister, replacing Chhagan Bhujbal.

Political actors, however, underlined that Chavan would have to contend with a lot, including the Adarsh scandal.

And precisely because he has never been a part of Maharashtra politics until now, the state's political parties felt he would be able to steer it to better times.

"We expect him to maintain stability in the state," said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Madhav Bhandari. "Other Congress politicians have always brought a bad name to Maharastra. We expect Chavan's clean image to bring stability."

Samajwadi Party state president Abu Azmi agreed, saying Chavan's clean image would help develop Maharashtra's backward regions.

Shiv Sena MP Bharatkumar Raut warned: "The state is facing challenges in all areas. The new chief minister will have to tackle all these. We expect him to succeed owing to his clean, non-corrupt image."

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) vice president Vagesh Saraswat also paid his tributes: "He is well-educated. Hence we expect him to lead the state to prosperity."

Born March 17, 1946 into a Marathi family in Indore, Chavan is an engineering graduate from BITS Pilani, Rajasthan, and holds an MS degree from the University of California specialising in aerospace engineering.

He worked in the field of aircraft instrumentation and designed audio recorders for anti-submarine warfare in the US before returning to India and becoming an entrepreneur in 1974.

After a chance meeting Rajiv Gandhi, Chavan was soon drawn into politics. He was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1991 and entered the Rajya Sabha in 2002 -- where he is still a member.

Both his parents were MPs from Karad. His father, the late D.R. Chavan, was a minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet.

Meanwhile Satara, Pune and Baramati town (in Pune district) - the two adjoining districts in western Maharashtra - erupted into celebrations here all day following the appointment of Chavan and Pawar as the two new top helmsmen in the state.

Similar celebrations were witnessed outside the Congress and NCP party offices in Mumbai to greet the new leaders.

While Chavan hails from Satara, Pawar hails from Pune with family roots in Baramati, also the hometown of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule-Pawar, Member of Lok Sabha.

In contrast, Nanded and Nashik went quiet after their two leaders - Ashokrao Chavan and Chhagan Bhujbal, respectively - lost their posts following the political upheaval in the wake of the Adarsh Co-Operative Housing Society controversy.


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