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Chavan gets CM crown, Rane explodes

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By OUR BUREAU in Delhi
  • Published 5.12.08

Mumbai/ New Delhi, Dec. 5: Ashok Chavan was named Maharashtra chief minister this evening, but not before Narayan Rane had embarrassed the Congress with a public outburst against Sonia Gandhi for “overlooking his claim” to the post.

A chief minister of the previous Shiv Sena government who crossed over to the Congress in 2005 and has since been trying to reclaim the chair, Rane told a news conference: “I do not have faith in any Congress leader at any level.”

Asked if he had faith in Congress president Sonia Gandhi, he replied: “No.”

Rane’s outburst came minutes before foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, who along with defence minister A.K. Antony has spent the past two days trying to find a successor to Vilasrao Deshmukh, announced Chavan’s name.

Deshmukh was forced to step down as chief minister after the attack on Mumbai. Chavan, who met the governor today, is expected to be sworn in on Sunday.

Rane’s aggressive supporters thronged Varsha, the chief minister’s residence, in the evening and raised slogans against the “injustice”.

“Ashok Chavan cannot be my competitor. It is well-known how efficiently he handles his portfolio — industries. (Being) Shankarrao Chavan’s son is his only qualification,” Rane fumed.

Shankarrao Chavan, a former chief minister, was Deshmukh’s mentor.

Rane, who has approached Sonia at least a dozen times with complaints against Deshmukh since 2005, alleged he along with the Maharashtra and Mumbai Congress chiefs, Manikrao Thakre and Kripa Shankar Singh, had pressured party MLAs to support Chavan.

“MLAs were summoned to Varsha.... Thakre, Kripa Shankar Singh and Vilasrao Deshmukh told them, ‘if you want tickets in the next elections, you should support Chavan’,” he said, claiming the support of 40 MLAs.

Although Mukherjee and Antony, central observers sent by Sonia to gauge the MLAs’ mood, had zeroed in on Chavan, Rane’s opposition deferred an announcement last night. The two leaders briefed Sonia today.

Chavan was backed by NCP leader Sharad Pawar and Deshmukh. Congress sources said the support of these two leaders outweighed the threat of a revolt by Rane, who has support among the Marathas in Konkan and had helped the Congress increase its tally over ally NCP.

Rane in Mumbai. (Fotocorp)

“Rane worked hard to get the job even while Deshmukh was firmly in the saddle…. But we have to see the image and competence level of a person. There’s a negative side to Rane…. Chavan has the advantage of being a non-entity and in that sense, starting with a clean slate,” a source said.

Rane said today he would not accept any Congress post. “This will only help the Shiv Sena,” he said, reminding the party of the polls next year.

Asked if Rane’s statements would invite disciplinary action, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “If any comment impinges on indiscipline, it will be subject to the disciplinary action committee’s decision.”

Bhujbal as deputy

Chhagan Bhujbal, another Shiv Sena rebel who crossed over to the Congress before following mentor Pawar into the Nationalist Congress Party, will be the Maharashtra deputy chief minister in place of R.R. Patil.

Patil, like Deshmukh, had to step down after the attack on Mumbai.

Bhujbal will also hold the home portfolio, like Patil, Pawar said in Pune.

The OBC leader had resigned in 2003 as deputy chief minister following allegations that he was linked to stamp paper scam kingpin Abdul Karim Telgi. He had been sidelined since.

Bhujbal’s last term as home minister had come under sharp criticism as he was accused of politicising the police force and offering prime postings for a price.