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Chavan is Cong's first choice as Maha CM

October 22, 2009 09:35 IST

If the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance retains power in Maharashtra, incumbent Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is likely to continue in his position. Chavan replaced Vilasrao Deshmukh as the chief minister after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai last year.

Even as a host of senior leaders of the party are eyeing the top post in the Maharashtra, top Congress sources told Business Standard that party president Sonia Gandhi was not keen to change the chief minister if the alliance comes back to power.

"There is no reason why he should be changed. He has been on the job for barely 11 months. In this short time, he has performed well," said a senior minister of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. During his election rallies, Gandhi had praised Chavan's initiatives for loan waiver for farmers and irrigation facilities for north Maharashtra.

But the plan may change dramatically if the Congress-NCP alliance needs to take the support of Independent MLAs "to a large extent" to form the next government. "In that case, the high command may opt for a more senior and experienced leader for the CM's post to manage the numbers," said a veteran Congress leader.

In its internal assessment, the Congress hopes to get around 91 seats, while it expects the NCP to get 49 to 51 seats. The coalition will need at least 145 MLAs for a simple majority to form the government in the 288-seat Maharashtra Assembly. The coalition is confident that it will manage some independent MLAs and small parties to keep its government afloat.

The NCP, which on Tuesday mooted a proposal to share the CM's chair in Maharashtra on a rotation basis, today climbed down and paved way for the Congress to take the top post. NCP chief Sharad Pawar today told reporters that he did not "see any chance" of this CM by turns, as his party was not likely to get more seats than the Congress.

In 2004, even as the NCP emerged as the largest party, the CM's seat was given to the Congress. The NCP, in return, got key portfolios like Home, Finance and PWD. This time, too, Pawar is looking forward to a similar arrangement.

While the Congress brass is not keen to change the leadership in the Maharashtra government, leaders like Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde are believed to be eyeing the top slot.