Mumbai/ New Delhi: Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Prithviraj Chavan has emerged as a front runner for the post of Maharashtra Chief Minister after the MLAs authorised Congress President Sonia Gandhi to take the final call. Maharashtra is likely to have a new Chief Minister by Wednesday afternoon.
Sources have told CNN-IBN that us that Prithviraj Chavan will in all probability be chosen for the top job.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister AK Antony will be meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia before Singh leaves for the G20 summit on Wednesday.
"Maharashtra Congress legislation party has authorised Congress President Sonia Gandhi to decide on the next chief minister of Mahrashtra. Most MLAs say they are ok with whatever central leadership decides. We will now go to Delhi and discuss this with party President," said Pranab after meeting Congress MLAs in Mumbai on Tuesday.
Replacing a young, Maratha chief minister like Ashok Chavan is not easy for the party. Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has indicated that Chavan's successor will have to be capable and clean.
While there are several contenders including Sushil Kumar Shinde, Harsh Vardhan Patil and Mukul Wasnik, it is Prithviraj Chavan and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil who are the strongest contenders.
Why Prithviraj Chavan: His strengths are a clean image, forward looking, good rapport with the Prime Minister and Sonia, urbane and with experience at the Centre.
His weaknesses are that he has no experience in state politics and no clout with MLAs. He doesn't have a good equation with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, a key ally and may not be tough enough to handle coalition pressures
Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil is the son of Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, who is the patriarch of the sugar co-operative sector, has been an eight-time MLA and can be a counter to Sharad Pawar's clout.
There are three other contenders for the chief minister's post.
The first is Harshvardhan Patil and at 47, he represents the new generation of leaders in the state. Being from Pawar's home turf, he can take on the NCP and as state Parliamentary Affairs Minister he has good rapport with the MLAs.
But his weaknesses include a limited equation with Congress central leadership, he is too closely identified with the Vilasrao Deshmukh faction and may not be accepted by other young Congress leaders. He has also been a part of the BJP-Shiv Sena government
The other contender is the veteran Sushil Kumar Shinde who has served as a chief minister earlier and has a good equation with 10 Janpath. He is also acceptable to Congress's ally NCP.
But what goes against him is the fact that the final permission for Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society was given during his tenure. He is also identified with the old order in the State.
The third leader in the fray is Balasaheb Thorat. He enjoys a clean image in Maharashtra, has been an MLA since 1985 and Cabinet Minister for the last 11 years. He is also seen as a staunch loyalist of the Congress and the Gandhi family.
But he is considered a political lightweight and is identified too closely with the sugar lobby.
NCP too is likely to see a change of face. NCP leader Praful Patel, DP Tripathi and Tariq Anwar will be in Mumbai with sources saying Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar could replace Chaggan Bhujbal as the deputy chief minister.
Congress, in a master stroke, removed two faces of controversies - Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi. Now it has to ensure that Chavan's successor has a clean record.
But with Congress helpless in the removal of the 2G spectrum-tainted A Raja, the battle against corruption may continue for long.