Maharashtra Congress leaders called to Delhi for talks


New Delhi/Mumbai: Amid hectic lobbying for the post of Maharashtra chief minister, the Congress high command Saturday evening summoned the three main contenders Ashok Chavan, Narayan Rane and Vilasrao Deshmukh for consultations.

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The 81 newly-elected Congress lawmakers met in Mumbai Saturday to choose the legislature party leader, but later authorised party chief Sonia Gandhi to decide on the next chief minister of the state.

The Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting, which was held in the Vidhan Bhavan (state legislature), passed a one-line resolution that Gandhi would choose the chief minister.

A central team comprising party general secretary Digvijay Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha K. Rehman Khan were present to ascertain the views of the legislators on the choice for the chief minister, a Congress officer bearer said in Mumbai.

All the leaders later left for New Delhi to meet Gandhi, a Congress leader said.

Incumbent Chief Minister Chavan, despite being a front-runner for the post and with the tacit support of Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi, is likely to face a tough time from another prime contender – Narayan Rane.

While Chavan has the backing of union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Rane, a former Shiv Sena activist, has the unexpected support of union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Though Shinde and Deshmukh – both former chief ministers – have officially opted out of the race, the latter may not be averse to a third term as chief minister if circumstances permit.

State party chief Manikrao Thackre and another long-time hopeful Patangrao Kadam are also in the fray.

Party sources claim that of the newly elected legislators, a majority support Rane for the post. Chavan, on the other hand is understood to have secured the support of a few of the 30-odd independents who have been elected.