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Prithviraj Chavan: Aerospace engineer who became a politician (Lead, Profile)

Mumbai, Nov 10 (IANS) His parents were political leaders but his heart was in aerospace engineering. He worked on aircraft instrumentation and designed audio recorders for anti-submarine warfare. Prithviraj Chauhan’s life took a dramatic turn when he had a chance meeting with Rajiv Gandhi.

Gandhi’s charisma was such that Chavan decided to give up his first love and follow his parents into politics. His education, his quiet nature, and his capacity to work eventually won him the respect of two people at the top: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

And so, 19 years after he first entered the Lok Sabha in 1991, Chavan was selected by Sonia Gandhi to take charge of Maharashtra, one of India’s biggest and most industralized states.

Chavan’s biggest asset? He enjoys a clean, non-controversial image, something the Congress desperately requires in Maharashtra, where tainted chief minister Ashok Chavan has been shown the door by the Congress.

Born March 17, 1946, into a Maharashtrian family in Indore, Chavan studied engineering at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani in Rajasthan before earning an MS degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

He returned to India and became an entrepreneur in 1974. Years later, he met Rajiv Gandhi — and Chavan was soon drawn into politics.

He contested early on from Karad in Satara district of western Maharashtra, which falls in the heart of Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar’s sphere of influence.

He entered the Rajya Sabha in 2002 and is now a member of the upper house, and also a minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Both his parents were MPs from Karad. His father, the late D.R. Chavan, was a minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet. Senior Chavan represented the Karad Lok Sabha constituency from 1957 to 1971. After his death in 1974, his wife Premlata Tai held the seat in 1977, 1984 and 1989. In 1980, she was denied ticket but was appointed state Congress president.

When Pawar broke away, Chavan remained with Sonia Gandhi. That was no surprise to many as his own parents had remained loyal to Indira Gandhi in earlier times.

Chavan has steadily risen in party ranks since becoming a Lok Sabha member and has been a key member of Manmohan Singh’s team.

He holds five portfolios in the Congress-led central government. These include the ministries of science and technology and personnel.

Chavan is Congress in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir and Haryana.

His chief interests are technical education, computerisation in Indian languages to update all land and revenue records, youth welfare, science, and rural industrialisation.

Chavan’s associates say despite his heavy commitments in Delhi, he keeps in touch with people in Maharashtra.

But his detractors say his politics has been oriented towards New Delhi, he lacks the experience to preside over a sprawling state like Maharashtra — particularly when the opposition is the Shiv Sena.

Married to Satvasheela, the couple has a son and a daughter.

During free time, Chavan plays cricket, tennis, table tennis, badminton or goes swimming. He relaxes by reading, chess or photography.

Whether he can still pursue his hobbies, only time will tell.

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