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Maratha balancing act at Maha's helm

BS Reporters  |  New Delhi/Mumbai 

Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the UPA government, spent a sleepless night on Tuesday, watching TV until the early hours of the morning. Around 5.30 am, Chavan got the much-awaited call from Congress President Sonia Gandhi, formally asking him to be chief minister of Maharashtra. “We are giving you this responsibility,” Gandhi told an elated Chavan, who immediately sought an appointment to meet her personally.

The Congress leadership today replaced Ashok Chavan with another Maratha leader. Interestingly, the Congress’ nominee to lead the state’s coalition government with Sharad Pawar’s NCP hails from Pawar’s stronghold of western Maharashtra. In the past, Chavan has been at loggerheads with the NCP chief on many occasions.

The NCP countered this by getting Ajit Pawar, Pawar’s nephew and a strong Maratha leader, nominated to the post of deputy chief minister. While Prithviraj belongs to Satara, Ajit Pawar is from Pune.

The new chief minister will take oath on Thursday along with a small team of Cabinet ministers. After a few days, there will be a Cabinet expansion, Chavan told reporters in Delhi.

After replacing Adarsh scam-tainted Ashok Chavan with Prithviraj Chavan, Gandhi was asked today what message she wanted to send to the people of Maharashtra. Her reply: “The message has already gone.”

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to leave for Seoul to attend the G-20 Summit in the morning, Chavan had to rush through several formalities, including his resignation and handing over files to the PMO. When he met Gandhi at her residence around 7 am, she advised him to meet the Prime Minister as soon as possible.

Chavan met Singh, his boss for more than six years, at around 9 am and submitted his resignation to the Union government, which was forwarded to the President almost immediately.

He also received a call from Pawar.

With Chavan’s shift to Mumbai’s Mantralaya, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal will look after his science & technology portfolio. Chavan’s other portfolios have been retained by the PM, but could be reallocated after the latter’s return from Seoul, stoking expectations of a Cabinet reshuffle. As party general secretary, Chavan also oversaw Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana and Tripura.

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First Published: Thu, November 11 2010. 00:33 IST