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Cong to have new man in Mumbai

New Delhi, Jan. 13: The Democratic Front government in Maharashtra will soon have a new chief minister, possibly by this weekend, as Congress president Sonia Gandhi tonight decided to replace Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Deshmukh met the Congress chief and agreed to make way for a successor. After an hour-long meeting with Sonia, he consented to “abide by whatever decision she took”, according to the Congress president’s political secretary, Ambika Soni.

Party sources made it clear Sonia had decided to replace Deshmukh. The chief minister was not available for comment.

Deshmukh, who arrived by a special flight from Mumbai, drove straight to Sonia’s residence. The Congress high command had sent AICC general secretary Mirza Irshad Baig to Mumbai to convey to the chief minister Sonia’s wish to replace him.

The chief minister is understood to have received in the bargain an assurance that Govindrao Adik, his detractor, will be removed as PCC president. Adik is scheduled to meet Sonia tomorrow.

Soni announced that a three-member team, including the AICC general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, Vyalar Ravi, will go to Mumbai on Wednesday to elicit the views of MLAs and senior leaders on the choice of Deshmukh’s successor.

A formal decision on the new candidate will be taken only after the central observers report back to Sonia. However, sources indicated that state leaders are likely to authorise the Congress chief to name the successor.

The party’s candidate in the recent vice-presidential election, Sushil Kumar Shinde, and the Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Shivraj Patil, are the two front-runners.

While Shinde, who arrived in the capital tonight, is considered the hot favourite and is also more acceptable to the Nationalist Congress Party, the coalition partner, imperatives of social balance might go against him. Party sources say that since deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, of the NCP, belongs to the other backward classes, the coalition might find it difficult to have a Dalit as chief minister. Even the NCP may not favour this combination, they say.

Patil may then reap the dividend. Some time ago, Sonia had sounded the former Lok Sabha Speaker.

, though till the other day NCP chief Sharad Pawar was seen as an obstacle to his selection.

Some state Congress leaders are apparently looking beyond these two.

Adik, who was summoned for a preliminary round of consultations on the high command’s move to conduct a “surgical operation” last Friday, is scheduled to meet Sonia tomorrow morning.

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