December 3, 2008 8:36:42 am
Maharashtra was minus a Chief Minister on Wednesday night after the Congress leadership accepted the resignation of Vilasrao Deshmukh but delayed a decision on his replacement.
Congress sources indicated that Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Minister of State in PMO Prithviraj Chavan, who had earlier been considered serious contenders, were more or less out of the race as the party wanted a leader active in the state for the top job. Three leaders had emerged as the new candidates — Narayan Rane, Ashok Chavan and Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil.
Rane, the sources said, was the frontrunner since he also had the blessings of Sharad Pawar, chief of ally NCP. Deshmukh and Rane have had a running battle with the latter sniping at the CM openly, even seeking his removal.
“Much will depend on the mood of the state legislature party,” said a senior Congress leader. It is learnt that the NCP was agreeable to Shinde as CM but the Congress wanted a Maratha leader. Prithviraj Chavan was not acceptable to the NCP since he comes from Karad in the NCP bastion of western Maharashtra and the party views him as a threat. The NCP also considers Ashok Chavan “too junior”.
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Emerging from an hour-long meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi late this evening, A K Antony, AICC in-charge of Maharashtra, said: “His (Deshmukh’s) resignation has been accepted. Observers will go there tomorrow and a new name will be announced thereafter.”
Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to the Congress president, were also present at the meeting in 10, Janpath. Earlier in the day, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi was also said to have called on Antony to discuss the issue.
Deshmukh had offered to quit on Monday, repeating it on Tuesday when he met Sonia Gandhi. While the writing on the wall was clear for Deshmukh, he was counting on differences of opinion between the Congress and NCP over the name of his successor.
Meanwhile, the NCP is said to be getting ready to nominate Chhagan Bhujbal as Deputy Chief Minister. He will fill in for R R Patil who had to go after the Mumbai terror attacks.
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