Cong stakes claim in Haryana; mystery over Maha CM

Last Updated: Saturday, October 24, 2009 - 09:17

Chandigarh: The Congress party on Friday staked its claim to form the government in Haryana after getting the support of all seven Independent legislators, giving it the required majority in the 90-member assembly, Congress legislators in the evening left the Chief Minister`s choice to party president Sonia Gandhi.

The Congress, which emerged as the single largest party in a hung assembly with 40 seats, needed six legislators to tote up simple majority in the house. All seven Independent candidates Friday resolved to support the Congress in formation of the new government.

The Congress Legislature Party authorised Sonia Gandhi to decide the leader of the party in the new assembly. The CLP leader selected by her will be the next Chief Minister.

Central observers, union minister Prithviraj Chauhan and Mohsina Kidwai met Congress legislators here for over two hours before an unanimous resolution was moved to authorize Sonia Gandhi to name the new leader.

Earlier, the Independents gave their letters of support to the Congress and later met Haryana Governor Jagannath Pahadia to reiterate their support.

"They have offered unconditional support to the Congress," state Power Minister Randeep Singh Surjewala told the media here.

The Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), led by former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi, both of whom were Congressmen till two years ago, also said Friday it would be part of the new government.

"People have elected us with expectations that we will deliver. We will be part of the new government," HJC president Kuldeep Bishnoi told the media in New Delhi, without specifying if he would support the Congress government.

The HJC has six legislators in the new Assembly.

Political developments continued through the day in New Delhi and Chandigarh as the Congress leaders remained busy trying to get the numbers to form the government.

State Congress president Phool Chand Mullana met the governor Friday to stake the party`s claim to form the new government.

Opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala, whose party bagged 31 seats, accused the Congress of `horse-trading` (corruption) and urged the governor not to invite it to form the government. He said the people had voted for 50 non-Congress legislators in the 90-member Assembly.

The Congress tally was much lower than its expectation of a comfortable majority and 27 seats less than the 67 it won in the February 2005 Assembly poll.

Maharashtra leader to be picked on Sat

The Congress party`s newly elected legislators will meet in Mumbai on Saturday afternoon to decide on who will lead the party-led alliance government in Maharashtra, India`s most industrialised state, for the next five years.

The meeting of the Congress Legislature Party would be attended by three central observers - Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rehman.

They are expected to meet the party`s newly-elected 81 legislators individually or in groups to ascertain their choice for the leadership of the Democratic Front (DF) government of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) which will assume office soon.

The NCP, led by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, had long back made it clear that it would not stake any claim to Chief Ministership. In the last polls too, the NCP had surrendered the Chief Ministership to the Congress though it had more legislators than the Congress.

By current indications, incumbent Ashok Chavan is considered the front-runner for the Chief Minister`s chair. But there is stiff competition from another senior leader, former Shiv Sena leader and Chief Minister Narayan Rane.

Even late last year when Chavan replaced Vilasrao Deshmukh, Rane had raised a banner of revolt but eventually remained in the party.

Later, Chavan managed to mollify him and even inducted him into the cabinet, giving him the plum revenue portfolio. It remains to be seen how Chavan would deal with the likely Rane challenge to his leadership bid now.

Another ambitious person eyeing the post was Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. He has apparently opted out of the race after a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the capital Friday morning.

Chavan got the unexpected backing of former Chief Minister and Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.

Chavan`s prospects had been boosted much before the elections. At a public rally in Nanded early this month, Gandhi had indicated that if the party returned to power Chavan would continue as the state Chief Minister as his performance was good.

According to party sources, in return for Shinde`s support, Chavan may induct Praniti Shinde, Shinde`s daughter who has been elected from Solapur, as a junior minister.

The sources said that Chavan has already created a lot of goodwill in the party by overseeing two crucial elections during his short tenure as the Chief Minister.

First, it was the May 2009 Lok Sabha polls followed by the October 2009 Assembly elections. In both, the Congress not only performed handsomely but improved it tally vis-a-vis its ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

In 2009 Lok Sabha, the Congress bagged 18 seats, compared to the 13 it held in the previous Lok Sabha. Its ally NCP bagged seven in May 2009 compared to nine it held in the previous 2004 Lok Sabha.

In the new assembly, the DF bagged a total 144 seats of which the Congress bagged 81 seats and the NCP secured 63 seats in the 288-member house.

In the outgoing house (2004), the NCP held 71 seats against the Congress`s 69 - the alliance total coming to 140.


First Published: Saturday, October 24, 2009 - 09:17

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