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RR Patil exits, CM set to go
NCP chief Sharad Pawar is said to be rooting for Sushil Kumar Shinde. He would like a pliable Congress leader before the assembly polls so he can drive a hard bargain on seat-sharing
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, December 1
Mumbaikars haven't yet finished with the funerals of those killed in last week's terror attacks, but Maharashtra's politicians have begun to shamelessly feud for the posts of Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister.

Both Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh of the Congress and Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil of the NCP announced their resignations after dragging their feet for several days despite trenchant criticism from fellow party men and civil society alike. However, their succession is unlikely to be a smooth affair with leaders of both the parties carrying out shrill campaigning within and outside their parties.

Early today, R R Patil announced his resignation as Deputy Chief Minister after it became clear that party boss Sharad Pawar had decided to pull the plug on him. Only yesterday, Patil had defied calls by the Opposition to resign. He has now gone into a sulk and refuses to meet party men and the media.

Chief Minister Deshmukh, who drew more flak for visiting the damaged Taj Mahal hotel accompanied by actor son Riteish and filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma, went on to submit his resignation to the party high command. Indications from Delhi are that Deshmukh's resignation may be forwarded to the Governor and his successor appointed over the next few days. But the transition is unlikely to be a smooth affair with Maharashtra set to go to the polls in 2009.

Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, which is a major coalition partner of the Congress in Maharashtra, is determined to have a say on who becomes the Chief Minister. According to sources here, attempts by the party leadership to get Prithviraj Chavan the top job has been objected to by Pawar. Chavan is a minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office.

Pawar is said to be rooting for Sushil Kumar Shinde, who succeeded Vilasrao Deshmukh in 2003. Observers say, Pawar would like a pliable Congress leader in charge of the state before the assembly elections so that he can drive a hard bargain when seat-sharing talks commence between both the parties. Shinde is an old protege of Pawar and does not hide his affection for his old mentor.

Right now, nobody is giving even an outside chance to Shiv Sena rebel-turned Congressman Narayan Rane who has never hidden his ambitions for the top job. But with his major supporter in Delhi, Margaret Alva, falling from grace Rane has had to lie low.

Within the NCP itself, there is a tussle on for the post of Deputy Chief Minister. With R R Patil quitting, PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal has emerged as a major contender for the post. Two others in the race are senior ministers Jayant Patil and Dilip Walse-Patil. However, Bhujbalís fate depends on whether Pawar wants to woo the Dalits ahead of the assembly elections.

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