The Congress asked Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to resign on Wednesday night.
After three days of indecision, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi gave Deshmukh marching orders after discussions with senior party leaders A.K. Antony and Ahmed Patel.
“Deshmukh has been asked to resign,” Antony, who is the party in-charge of Maharashtra affairs, confirmed.
Deshmukh did not answer calls. “He was expecting it,” said a close aide.
The focus now shifts to Mumbai, where central party observers led by Antony will announce Deshmukh’s successor on Thursday.
While Industries Minister Ashok Chavan is among the favourites, former chief minister Narayan Rane — who joined the Congress in 2005 after quitting the Shiv Sena — has emerged as a strong contender too. Sources said Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar is not opposed to Rane.
Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde went out of the reckoning as the leadership felt that sending someone from Delhi at a time when both the Parliament and assembly polls are close by may backfire.
Congress veteran Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil and former state party chief Govindrao Adik, both Marathas, are also in the race. This is the second time that Deshmukh has failed to complete his term as chief minister. He first became chief minister in November 1999 but was replaced by Shinde in January 2003.
Deshmukh started his political career as a sarpanch in Babhalgaon village in Latur. He entered the assembly in 1980, going on to become chief minister in November 1999. He stepped down on January 17, 2003, after a factional feud.
Deshmukh returned as chief minister on November 1, 2004.
In all, Deshmukh has been chief minister for over seven years. Only the late Vasantrao Naik, who was in the chair for 11 years, has served longer in the post.