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Chief ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Bhupinder Singh Hooda met their party president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday amid intense speculation about a change of leadership in Congress-ruled states.
While the Haryana chief minister appeared to be on relatively safe ground, Chavan’s fate seemed to hang on the political call the Congress leadership will take in the face of increasing pressure from its ally, the NCP.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar has demanded a change of guard in Maharashtra, and conveyed to the Congress that he would prefer to go it alone in the upcoming Assembly elections if Chavan was not removed.
The Maharashtra chief minister is learnt to have been given no firm indication on his fate yet, but the Congress is jittery about Pawar’s ultimatum. The party is currently weak in Maharashtra, having won only two seats in the Lok Sabha elections. Besides, Pawar has in the recent past appeared conciliatory towards the BJP.
Chavan is learnt to have explained his side of the story to Sonia, including the NCP’s “machinations” against him. Sonia, sources said, did indicate to Chavan that there were complaints against him. After the meeting, he parried questions about a possible leadership change in Maharashtra, but said that he had conveyed to the leadership that the atmosphere of uncertainty needed to end. “We need to get clarity soon,” he said.
Chavan also met senior Congress leaders A K Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel. Sources said if the leadership ultimately decided to remove him, former Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde could be his successor.
Chavan’s Haryana counterpart, on the other hand, is probably safe for now, sources said. This has to do also with the absence currently of a credible face to replace him.
After the meeting with Sonia, Hooda dismissed as “rumours” the talk of a change of guard in Haryana. “All sections of society are satisfied with the functioning of the state government,” he said. AICC general secretary in charge of Haryana Shakeel Ahmed too said a change of leadership was currently not under consideration.
According to the sources, the most vulnerable Congress chief minister currently was Tarun Gogoi. The Assam chief minister is scheduled to arrive in Delhi on Sunday to meet Sonia, and could well be on his way out.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, who has raised the banner of revolt against Gogoi, too is in the capital, and has met top party leaders. Gogoi said it was up to the leadership to take a call on his fate.”I won’t say yes, I won’t say no. It is going to be a high command decision only,” he said.
Sources said Sonia also met two other Maharashtra leaders, Shivajrao Deshmukh and Shivajirao Moghe, and the latter also met Antony. Deshmukh is chairman of the Maharashtra Legislative Council, and Moghe is a minister in Chavan’s cabinet. Besides Shinde, the names of state ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil have been doing the rounds as possible successors to Chavan.
While the term of the Maharashtra Assembly ends only in December, the election could be advanced and clubbed along with Haryana, where the Assembly’s term ends in late October.