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Breather for Deshmukh

Mumbai, Aug. 28: Vilasrao Deshmukh, busy fighting speculation over his fate as Maharashtra chief minister, has received help from unexpected quarters.

In a statement issued here by 11 legislators — mostly Independents and from small allies — the Congress high command has been warned against replacing Deshmukh.

The legislators have said that they might leave the ruling dispensation if reports about moves being made to oust the chief minister came true.

“Our support (to the Democratic Front government) should not be taken for granted in an event of change in leadership in the state,’’ the MLAs, including nine ministers, said in the statement. “We, Independents and allies, have extended faith in the leadership of Deshmukh and if there is a change of guard, our support to the government should not be taken for granted.’’

The show of support comes at a time when voices of dissent have been growing against Deshmukh. Most of the criticism has been pegged to the chief minister’s “increasing closeness’’ to Sharad Pawar, whose NCP is a partner of the ruling coalition in the state. His detractors say that, apart from toeing a distinct “Pawar line’’ in Maharashtra matters, Deshmukh also “takes order from the NCP chief”.

The chief minister’s recent decisions to hold board exams for Class IV students and increase the charge for photo identity cards meant for slum-dwellers were sharply criticised from within the party.

The anti-Deshmukh camp, led by Suresh Kalmadi, minister Patangrao Kadam and state Congress chief Govindrao Adik, have been petitioning the high command for a change of leadership.

Striking back at his critics, Deshmukh, too, is believed to have asked the Congress president to replace Adik with Shivajirao Moghe, a backward class leader.

However, if at all Deshmukh is replaced, there seems to be no unanimity on his successor.While senior leader Sushil Kumar Shinde’s name is doing the rounds, he will have to go a long way to garner support from those in the Deshmukh camp. Others in the “race”, Kadam and Adik, cannot boast a support base bigger than that of Deshmukh.

However, the 11 legislators made it clear today that Independents and small parties hold the key to the government’s stability and nobody should do anything to disturb the equation.

Deshmukh refused to comment on the latest round of “rumours”. Adik, too, tried to scotch speculation on Deshmukh’s “removal”. “I have no idea of any such thing,’’ he said, maintaining that he is “sure” nothing like that is happening.

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