M A I N   N E W S

Deshmukh to be CM
Maratha lobby prevails
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, October 29
After more than eight hours of tough political bargaining, Congress MLAs this evening elected Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh to be Maharashtra’s Chief Minister for the second time.

Armed with the support of more than 55 MLAs, most of them from his Maratha community, Mr Deshmukh’s clout saw him sail past outgoing Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde in the race, according to sources.

Though Mr Shinde had the backing of party President Sonia Gandhi, he could not overcome the opposition to his candidature for the top job from Congress MLAs. Sources here say Mr Shinde was appeased with a berth in the Union Cabinet after being sent to the Rajya Sabha in return for withdrawing from the fray.

In the end, as per Congress tradition, Mr Shinde proposed Mr Deshmukh’s name, who was “elected unanimously” by all MLAs as the Congress Legislative Party leader.

Mr Deshmukh then thanked Ms Sonia Gandhi for his second stint as Chief Minister.

He will go to Maharashtra Governor Mohammad Fazal on Saturday to stake claim to form the government after obtaining letters of support from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), smaller parties and Independents, according to sources.

Earlier in the day, MLAs from the NCP elected outgoing Home Minister R. R. Patil as the leader of its party in the Maharashtra legislature. Mr Patil will assume the post of Deputy Chief Minister in the Deshmukh Cabinet.

Mr Patil pipped outgoing Deputy Chief Minister Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil to the post after a debate lasting several hours at the NCP's offices in downtown Mumbai. Mr R. R. Patil, however, bagged the maximum votes after a secret ballot was held to determine the NCP's leader in the Maharashtra Assembly.

He, however, thanked party President Sharad Pawar for his victory. "It is only because of a leader like Mr Sharad Pawar that someone who started small like me can become Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra," Mr Patil said after his election.

Mr Patil, who is tipped to be Maharashtra's Home Minister, said he would work for the uplift of the downtrodden, minorities, women and the weaker sections. "I will also make efforts to step up industrialisation in the state and try to address the unemployment problem," he added.

With the election of Mr Deshmukh and Mr Patil, both Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra will be from the powerful Maratha community. Observers say the Congress and the NCP would now be in competition for the Maratha base. The two parties are, however, expected to provide more sops for the Dalits, who find no representation in the top echelons of the government.

During Mr Deshmukh's first term as Chief Minister, beginning 1999, his deputy was Mr Chhagan Bhujbal, a Dalit. After Mr Shinde, a Dalit, took over Mr Deshmukh's mantle, Mr Bhujbal gave way to Mr Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, a Maratha.

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