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Chavan lobbies to keep chair

New Delhi, June 21: Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, widely expected to be replaced soon, reached Delhi today to lobby for his survival and told the Congress high command the uncertainty just before the Assembly election was not good for the party.

What generated immense curiosity in Congress circles was Chavan’s decision to knock on the doors of President Pranab Mukherjee and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for support.

While these visits were described as “courtesy calls”, many Congress leaders said they did not believe the beleaguered chief minister would do anything but lobby in this hour of crisis.

Manmohan Singh has been Chavan’s key source of strength. The President should ideally be aloof from party politics, but Congress leaders have been calling on him in difficult times.

Chavan also met senior party leaders A.K. Antony and Ahmed Patel before having a brief conversation with Sonia Gandhi. He sounded confident and his aides asserted that the reports about his imminent removal were baseless.

Sources said the general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, Mohan Prakash, too was earnestly trying to save Chavan’s chair. Like the chief minister, Prakash is under fire from state MLAs who want him also replaced.

For the past five-six days, there has been speculation in the media about a change of leadership in Maharashtra but the party high command has not cared to issue a rebuttal.

Had there been no plans to change the chief minister in the crucial state, whose capital Mumbai is the country’s financial hub, the central leadership would have nipped the controversy in the bud.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, whose party is part of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, yesterday confirmed in Mumbai that the Congress leadership was determined to change the chief minister.

With just two seats in the Lok Sabha election to show for and the MLAs unhappy with him, Chavan was anyway a lame-duck chief minister. Now with this speculation about his removal, he is bound to face further loss of authority. Even if he is allowed to stay and lead the party in the Assembly election, the debilitating impact of this episode will continue to haunt the state government.

The chief minister has decided to stay put in the national capital to muster support for himself. He has also sought time to meet Rahul Gandhi.

Congress sources said the leadership was also mulling the future of the chief ministers of Assam and Haryana, and a decision would come early next week.

A committee headed by Antony has begun studying the election results state-wise. It is expected to submit its report by the month-end, so the mega shuffle being planned by Sonia could take place before the start of the next session of Parliament.