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Deshmukh row dogs Cong

New Delhi, Dec. 22: The Congress is gripped by Maharashtra blues on the eve of the Gujarat poll results.

Narayan Rane, the state revenue minister who quit the Shiv Sena to join the Congress three years ago, met party president Sonia Gandhi today and expressed “unhappiness” with the functioning of the Vilasrao Deshmukh government.

However, Rane also made it clear that his “unhappiness” should not be construed as a sign of “revolt” against the party, as was made out by a section of the media to which he had spoken on Friday, sources said.

“I am very unhappy. My government is not functioning. I have waited for two years but it is impossible,” he had been quoted as saying.

Rane’s statement fuelled the speculation that he was considering leaving the Congress to join the breakaway Sena group led by Raj Thackeray. He reportedly clarified to Sonia that he had no intention of quitting her party.

The sources said that in quintessential Congress style, Sonia was unlikely to “react or act” in a hurry.

However, the high command has received a mixed feedback on the Maharashtra chief minister’s record.

The party’s Muslim leaders, for instance, have complained to Sonia on various occasions of how Deshmukh had “dragged” his feet on the implementation of the Srikrishna report on the 1993 communal violence, which indicted several Sena functionaries and Maharashtra police.

Deshmukh’s less-than-pro-active role in getting on top of Vidarbha’s agrarian problems and farmer suicides are also a cause of worry for the Congress president. There is a view that the chief minister has tended to shift the blame on Sharad Pawar because he was the Union agriculture minister.

The Maharashtra Congress chief, Prabha Rau, will fly to Delhi tomorrow to meet Sonia. She is not supposed to be on the best of terms with the chief minister.

But the flip side of the Maharashtra problem is that Rane is not the state Congress’s hot favourite. Sunil Dutt, the late Lok Sabha MP from Mumbai North, had cautioned against giving Rane “undue importance” because that would antagonise Muslims.

The sources said that even if Deshmukh were to be replaced, Rane would not be his successor.

However, they did acknowledge the clout the Maratha leader had in the coastal Konkan region, which was a BJP-Sena stronghold until he moved to the Congress. The sources claimed that at any given time, Rane could ensure the victory of at least five or six MLAs in the region.

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