Decision on Deshmukh’s successor deferred by a day


New Delhi/Mumbai : Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh got another breather Tuesday with the Congress leadership deferring by a day its decision on his resignation offer over the Mumbai terrorist attack. Speculations were also on that he may stay on.

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While the embattled chief minister, who was summoned to the national capital, was late Tuesday evening closeted with Congress leaders, including party in-charge for Maharashtra A.K. Antony, a decision on his fate could not be taken because of difficulties in finding Deshmukh’s successor for a variety of reasons, party sources said.

Deshmukh earlier offered to resign and he reiterated his decision before Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Antony said in New Delhi.

“Discussions are going on. As soon as we will arrive on a decision, we will let the media know,” said the defence minister.

Congress sources, however, hinted that a decision on Deshmukh’s successor would by taken by Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Following the Mumbai terrorist attack last week that claimed 183 lives, union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil have stepped down.

As Deshmukh’s replacement, the names of Maharashtra Industries Minister Ashok Chavan, central Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan and intransigent revenue minister Narayan Rane, were considered in the meeting.

The problem, however, arose because of the reported reluctance on part of the central ministers to take up the assignment in the troubled situation with elections to the state assembly due next year amid hostile popular sentiment towards Maharashtra’s ruling Democratic Front of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

With both parties keen on Shinde, a Dalit leader, as next chief minister, efforts would be made to persuade him to take up the challenge as he had done in 2003 – replacing Deshmukh that time too – to ensure the Congress victory in the 2004 elections, the sources said.

Shinde’s grouse is that the party refused to make him chief minister after the elections.

NCP state unit chief Arun Gujarati, however, told IANS that his party was not opposed to Ashok Chavan “or anybody else” for that matter, and that it was wholly up to the Congress to choose Deshmukh’s successor.

While the NCP made known its opposition to Rane and Prithiviraj Chavan through an influential central minister of that party without communicating the name of an acceptable candidate, it also forced postponement of a scheduled meeting between leaders of the two parties in the national capital on the plea that the Congress should first decide on Deshmukh’s successor, the sources said.

The Congress-NCP meeting in Delhi was scheduled to discuss the composition of the Maharashtra cabinet under the new cabinet after Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil, who held the home portfolio, resigned. Three posts from NCP quota are lying vacant.

The NCP took a position that it could decide on the new deputy chief minister and home minister only after knowing about the Congress decision on Deshmukh’s offer to resign and choice of his successor, a well informed party source told IANS.

It was precisely in view of the developments – or stalemate – in New Delhi that the NCP legislators resolved at their meeting in Mumbai to leave the decision on the names of new deputy chief minister and home minister to their leader Sharad Pawar.

The sources, however, indicated that the party has decided to give the home portfolio to Finance Minister Jayant Patil, induct Gujarati in his place and bestow the post of deputy chief minister on Transport Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who was home minister earlier.