Why Congress avoided naming Deshmukh’s successor Thursday?

December 5th, 2008 - 2:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Dec 5 (IANS) The Congress leadership has desisted from announcing the name of outgoing Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshumkh’s successor fearing that its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), might disapprove of front-runner Ashok Chavan, say party insiders.State Industries Minister Chavan is the son of the late Shankarrao Chavan, a former Maharashtra chief minister, and it was thought that a word with NCP chief Sharad Pawar before naming him would be the right thing to do.

While officially taking a position that the selection of Deshmukh’s successor is the Congress’ internal matter, NCP had reportedly suggested that the party should choose a Maratha as new chief minister so it could select an OBC (other backward classes) candidate for the deputy chief minister’s post to balance the team.

Accordingly, high profile OBC leader Chhagan Bhujbal has been chosen for the post, earlier occupied by the NCP’s R.R. Patil who resigned in the wake of the Mumbai terror strike.

While favouring a Maratha-OBC caste combination for the top two posts, NCP had also reportedly communicated its opposition to the name of central minister Prithviraj Chavan as well as Ashok Chavan. Pawar and the late Shankarrao Chavan never saw eye to eye.

Ashok Chavan’s name emerged after All India Congress Committee (AICC) observers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony Thursday interviewed party legislators one on one at the Vidhan Bhavan here to gauge their views on the new leader.

The party had Wednesday told Deshmukh to resign in the wake of the devastating Nov 26 terror strike in Mumbai that claimed nearly 200 lives.

Completing the marathon six-hour exercise at around 9 p.m., Antony emerged from the Vidhan Bhavan only to tell reporters that the new chief minister’s name would be announced after an hour following party president Sonia Gandhi’s final word from Delhi.

A couple of hours later, mediapersons were told the announcement would be made in Delhi Friday after the observers briefed Gandhi on the whole exercise.

Nearly 35 of 75 legislators forwarded Ashok Chavan’s name, 15 legislators showed preference for Revenue Minister Narayan Rane and about 25 refrained from stating their choice, telling the observers they would abide by Gandhi’s decision, a senior party leader told IANS.

Congress legislators reconvened around 10.30 p.m. and passed a one-line resolution authorising Gandhi to take the decision on Deshmukh’s successor.

In the event of the Congress dumping Ashok Chavan, who hails from Nanded in the state’s Marathwada region, despite the state legislators’ majority favouring him, union Energy minister Sushilkumar Shinde who had replaced Deshmukh as chief minister in 2003 ahead of the 2004 elections may be asked to take the post again, party sources say.

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