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Congress, NCP weigh new CM & poll terms

New Delhi, June 19: The Congress and ally NCP today discussed possible change of leadership in Maharashtra, besides seat-sharing and new partners for the upcoming state polls.

The Congress leadership is also examining the possibility of replacing Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, though a demand for a new face in poll-bound Haryana is haunting the party too. At least 10 state unit chiefs are likely to be changed. The decisions are expected by Monday.

While the removal of Maharashtra’s Prithviraj Chavan appeared almost certain, the Congress-NCP talks revolved around other matters. These included the terms of the alliance in the new situation — after the Lok Sabha election that saw the Congress get fewer seats than the NCP — the idea of including Mayawati’s BSP in the alliance and the choice of the new chief minister.

NCP sources said Chavan would probably be replaced by Sushil Kumar Shinde and asserted any other name would not be acceptable.

NCP boss Sharad Pawar — with whom the Shinde has excellent relations — met key Congress strategists A.K. Antony and Ahmed Patel. Antony and Patel later briefed Sonia Gandhi.

Sources said Chavan had not yet been asked to put in his papers. In Delhi, some senior Congress leaders continued to argue that there was no point in changing the chief minister months before the state polls. But the MLAs disagree, insisting only a new face can re-ignite hope for the combine.

A new angle was added to today’s talks with the proposal to bring in the BSP. Mayawati’s party polled barely 2.6 per cent votes in the state in the Lok Sabha polls but got 50,000 to 1 lakh votes in some seats — enough to affect outcomes in Assembly segments.

The Opposition BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has been strengthened with Dalit leader Ramdas Athawale’s Republican Party of India (RPI) as a partner. One reason why Pawar wants Shinde as chief minister and Mayawati as an ally is to win back Dalit votes. Mayawati and Shinde are also Dalits. But the BSP has denied any alliance talks, asserting it would fight the polls on its own.