The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhujbal set to retain place in Shinde team

Mumbai, Jan. 17: Sushil Kumar Shinde crossed the last lap on his way to the Maharashtra chief minister’s post, even as Vilasrao Deshmukh, whom he replaced, stared at an uncertain future in the Congress.

Shinde will be sworn in as Maharashtra’s 22nd chief minister at 4 pm tomorrow and will seek a trust vote in the Assembly on January 22.

After being declared the Congress Legislature Party leader yesterday, the 61-year-old chief minister-designate was today elected leader of the ruling Democratic Front coalition in Maharashtra.

Shinde later presented Governor Mohammad Fazal with a list of 148 supporters in the House of 289. The list did not include five Peasants and Workers Party MLAs — who have decided to remain neutral — and two CPM MLAs — who have agreed to support the government from outside.

Shinde announced that eight members of the Nationalist Congress Party, including deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, would be sworn in with him tomorrow.

This has come as a respite for Bhujbal, as it was widely rumoured that the NCP leader — who is from the Other Backward Classes — would have to step down because his party would want a Maratha to take his place.

Party sources had said that some NCP leaders felt that with a Dalit taking over as chief minister, there was no need for an OBC to be his deputy. They feel caste equations would be better served if a Maratha leader replaces Bhujbal.

“Bhujbal will remain the deputy leader of the coalition and also the deputy chief minister,” said NCP spokesman Praful Patel.

Six Independent MLAs would also take oath tomorrow.

Shinde remained non-committal on the issue of forging a pre-poll alliance with the NCP for the 2004 Assembly elections. “All secular parties have to come together to check fundamentalist forces. We are working as per the need of the hour,” he said.

With Shinde set to be sworn in, Deshmukh struggled to come to terms with an uncertain future in the Congress. “This is not the end as far as my political career is concerned. I lost in the 1995 (Assembly) elections and everybody wrote me off. But I came back to become the chief minister. So, hopefully, there is still a great future ahead for me,” he said.

However, the outgoing chief minister seemed to be in a hurry to put in his resignation. Deshmukh had yesterday said he would wait till 11am today to meet Fazal and tender a formal resignation but resigned last night itself, soon after the Governor came back from Delhi.

Congress sources say there is no information on Deshmukh being accommodated immediately, either in the Central team or in the state. But the outgoing chief minister and his supporters are hopeful that soon the Congress high command will give Deshmukh an important role to play.

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