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In an attempt to retrieve the ground lost in the Lok Sabha elections, Congress is contemplating replacing the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam.
Former Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde appears to be a frontrunner for the top job in Maharashtra.
Similarly, senior leaders, Choudhary Birender Singh and Kumari Selja, are the frontrunners to replace Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Assembly elections are due in both the states in October-November this year.
“Fifty-fifty,” said a top Congress leader on the chances of change of guard in these states.
Following the poll debacle, the party is also considering changing state chiefs in eight to ten states — including Uttar Pradesh — to galvanise its cadre.
Following a strong demand by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and a large number of party legislators, the Congress leadership is considering a proposal to replace chief minister Prithviraj Chavan before the upcoming assembly polls.
The reports of change of leadership in Maharashtra gained ground on Thursday following a meeting of senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel and AK Antony with Pawar at his residence in Delhi. Pressure had been building on the Congress high command to replace Chavan after the party’s dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections in which it managed to win just two seats.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan is likely to replace Manikrao Thakre as the state unit chief in case he gets a clean chit in the paid-news case. Sources in both parties said that a possible leadership change was discussed at the meeting called for seat sharing between the allies in the upcoming assembly polls.
It is learnt that in the meeting Pawar said that projecting a Dalit face with Shinde as the chief minister will help the ruling alliance.
Pawar also reportedly said a rainbow coalition of likeminded parties including the Peasants and Workers Party, Jansurajya Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the upcoming polls will help the alliance to do better.
In the Lok Sabha polls, while the saffron combine had managed to work out an effective alliance comprising small outfits representing different sections including the Dalits, the ruling Congress-NCP alliance failed to stitch a front. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies won 42 of the 48 seats to rout the Congress-NCP combine.
Immediately after the Lok Sabha polls - in which the ruling alliance was routed by the BJP-led combine -the Congress leadership had considered replacing Chavan.
Facing limited options and with just four months to go for the assembly polls, the party decided to back the CM and went for a minor reshuffle of the Cabinet.
However, following a strong demand by Pawar and a section of other leaders, the Congress leadership is again considering the proposal to replace Chavan.
"Pawar had pointed it out last week that a change in leadership will help the alliance to do better. He had complained that decision making in the state was still slow.
"The understated hint is that his party would go solo in the upcoming polls unless Congress makes some changes. The party leadership is also aware that majority of the legislators don't have confidence in Chavan and hence this discussion of replacing him is back at the table,'' said a senior Congress leader.
For the past two weeks, opposition to Chavan has been apparent with several Congress legislators having made it clear that under his leadership the party would once again face resounding defeat.
Senior Congress minister Narayan Rane publicly revolted and agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil went public with his complaints against the CM's leadership style and slow decision making.
"There is a fear that Congress is fighting battle for survival in the coming polls. And it seems clear that Chavan doesn't enjoy confidence of his team here. The final decision will be taken by party high command perhaps by next week,'' said another senior Congress leader.
Shinde, who had gone abroad for medical treatment, is back in the country and currently in Mumbai.
He refused to comment on the issue, though sources close to him said that the move was too late to affect any real impact on polls.
In Haryana, Hooda has come under attack from his detractors for “indulging in group politics and being insensitive” to party colleagues. But a section in the party credits Hooda for development of Haryana.
In Assam, chief minister Tarun Gogoi is facing a rebellion led by state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
“A decision on changes in these three states will be taken shortly and the first decision could come as early as next week,” a senior leader said.