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Who will occupy Bhujbal's chair?

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai | December 24, 2003 23:01 IST

The hunt for a new deputy chief minister for Maharashtra began in right earnest soon after Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar arrived in party headquarters in Mumbai on Wednesday.

Dressed in spotless white shirt and trousers, Pawar walked into the meeting room where more than 50 leaders from different parts of Maharashtra had assembled.

Apart from picking the lucky one, the meet also debated whether one person should be given the dual responsibility of deputy chief minister and home minister. Bhujbal was both the deputy chief minister and home minister.

"We are likely to come out with some decision in two days of our meeting. I cannot tell at this moment whether there will be two persons for two different posts or one person holding both the posts," party spokesman Vasant Chavan told rediff.com

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Bhujbal had put in his papers on Tuesday after party activists attacked the office of Alpha TV Marathi for telecasting a spoof that suggested that Bhujbal had a hand in the stamp paper scam.

"As the home minister of the state it was my responsibility to see that the media is free to express their views. I failed to protect them and their interest therefore I am resigning," said Bhujbal.  He also clarified that he was not giving up his post because of pressure from within the party due to his alleged involvement with prime accused in the stamp paper scam Abdul Karim Telgi.

There are four contenders for deputy chief ministership -- Maharashtra unit chief and Rural Development Minister R R Patil, Public Works Department Minister Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, Irrigation Minister Ajit Pawar or the Karad Member of Parliament, Sriniwas Patil.

Asked whether he was in the race, R R Patil said, "I cannot say anything on this matter as it will be decided in two days who will get the post. We are going to sit together and decide a person's name unanimously with our party president Sharad Pawar's approval."

Another question NCP leaders were grappling with was the party's strategy in next year's assembly election.  "The meeting is not only about the DCM and home minister's post. We will also decide on what would be the future strategy of the party in the next year's assembly and parliamentary elections," Sachin Ahir said.

Many insiders consider Sriniwas Patil to be the prime contender because of his background of as a bureaucrat. Patil served in many parts of the state as an IAS officer. He added a feather to his cap after defeating veteran Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan from Karad, western Maharashtra, which was considered a Congress bastion.

Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, who is also a contender, said, "Wait and watch."

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