Shinde tipped to replace Deshmukh

April 8th, 2008 - 6:52 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
(Lead, Changing dateline)

New Delhi/Mumbai, April 8 (IANS) Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, facing flak for perceived non-performance, is on his way out with the Congress forming a panel to decide on the leadership question while union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has emerged as the frontrunner for the post. Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi, replying to reporters’ query Sunday, said Deshmukh was “stable”, the party Tuesday set up a three-member committee to decide on his replacement as the head of the Democratic Front government of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the state.

The committee comprising External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A. K. Antony and Sonia Gandhi’s political advisor Ahmed Patel has been asked to submit its report stating whether a leadership change is necessary and, if so, who should replace Deshmukh, party sources said.

The party sources say Deshmukh will be out immediately after the ongoing state assembly session is over April 20.

Rumours of leadership change got currency both in the state and the national capital Sunday morning with Deshmukh rushing to the Mumbai airport to fly out to Delhi on an urgent summons from the Congress president to discuss the names for the Maharashtra governor’s post and some more gubernatorial appointments.

The state governor’s post has fallen vacant following the resignation of S.M. Krishna last month. Krishna returned to active politics in Karnataka, and Goa Governor S.C. Jamir is holding the additional charge in Maharashtra as an interim arrangement.

Deshmukh, however, returned to his official residence Varsha from the airport after getting a message that the meeting was postponed.

Union Power Minister Shinde’s arrival in Mumbai around the same time, though as per a pre-decided programme, fuelled the speculation further.

In Sunday’s cabinet expansion and reshuffle, Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce, was also made minister of state for power, setting tongues wagging that Power Minister Shinde could be brought to the top post in Maharashtra.

A former Maharashtra chief minister who had replaced Deshmukh a year before the 2004 state assembly elections, Shinde’s name is on top of the list of probable replacements to Deshmukh this time as well.

With the party president’s comment on his stability, Deshmukh had told reporters in Mumbai that the talk of leadership change was only in the media.

Maharashtra Congress president Prabha Rau, considered to be Deshmukh’s bete noire, was camping in Delhi for three days around the same time.

Revenue Minister Narayan Rane, who has been persistently demanding the chief minister’s post and complaining against Deshmukh, too visited Delhi during Rau’s stay and presented his charge sheet against the chief minister to the high command.

Though Rane is learnt to have repeatedly reminded the party high command of its “promise” to reward him with the chief minister’s post for leading seven legislators from the Shiv Sena to the Congress after his own defection from that party, the leadership is not in favour of pandering to the newcomer’s dictates, according to the Congress sources in Mumbai.

His name, however, remains in the list of probables along with that of union Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Criticised for his allegedly casual approach and a lack of grip on the government and the party legislators, Deshmukh’s detractors say he cannot lead the Congress to victory in the next elections. The polls are due next year but likely to be held earlier.

The chief minister’s own statement last week that his cabinet colleagues do not listen to him has been cited against him by his detractors, the sources said.

On the other hand, Shinde, a suave Dalit leader from Solapur, is seen as the party’s bulwark against Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati’s concerted bid to woo Scheduled Castes voters in Maharashtra with the Republican Party of India hopelessly splintered.

The factors cited in favour of Deshmukh by his supporters, however, are equally weighty, like a phenomenal amount of foreign investment achieved in the state during the last three years, considerable progress on the front of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Special Economic Zones and smooth functioning of the coalition government.

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