Vilasrao is Maharashtra CM

Mumbai, Oct 29 | Updated: Oct 30 2004, 05:30am hrs
In a dramatic turnaround, former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was elected to the post of leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP). Meanwhile, RR Patil emerged as the unanimous choice for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislature party leader.

Mr Deshmukh and Mr Patil, chief minister designate and deputy chief minister designate, respectively, who hail from the politically influential Maratha community, are expected to stake their claims on Saturday. The swearing-in ceremony is expected to take place either on Saturday evening or Monday, Sunday being the death anniversary of former PM Indira Gandhi.

The caretaker chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde, a Dalit leader, failed to get a second term in view of his alleged proximity to the Maratha strongman, Sharad Pawar. However, he is now expected to be rehabilitated at the Centre.

RR Patil beat his nearest competitors caretaker deputy chief minister Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, irrigation minister Dr Padmasinh Patil and finance minister Jayant Patil in a secret ballot. He is believed to have bagged around 60 out of a total of 84 votes. However, the results were not declared on the grounds that other contestants preferred the unanimous election of RR Patil as the legislature party leader.

Apparently, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar insisted on the secret ballot.

Meanwhile, Congress stuck to its tradition whereby party observers Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot and Margaret Alva, individually, met party legislators to know their minds. A large number of Congress legislators reportedly supported the election of Mr Deshmukh.

According to Congress insiders, Mr Deshmukh, who was state chief minister from October 1999 to January 2003, has been brought in with the mandate to counter the NCP. On the other hand, RR Patil was the obvious choice of Mr Pawar to consolidate his partys position, especially among youth and in rural areas.