Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI: Conflicting signals emerged on Tuesday from the All India Congress Committee on formation of a panel of senior leaders to take stock of the situation in Maharashtra and finding a successor to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Party general secretary in-charge of Maharashtra Margaret Alva said no such committee was formed. “The Congress president has not told me any such thing,” she asserted, before leaving for Bangalore.

“In-house exercise”

At the same time, party spokesman Manish Tewari downplayed reports of Congress president Sonia Gandhi forming a panel of senior leaders, including Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony, saying that not much should be read into what was essentially an in-house exercise. “The party periodically conducts in-house exercises to review the functioning of party’s State units and State governments,” he said.

Rane’s stand

It is no secret that some State leaders, including Pradesh Congress Committee chief Prabha Rau and Narayan Rane, have been at loggerheads with Mr. Deshmukh. Mr. Rane had openly spoken against Mr. Deshmukh’s style of governance and had met Ms. Gandhi in this regard. The former Chief Minister is an aspirant for the top job in the State.

What has triggered the latest round of speculation is the additional charge of the Power Ministry being given to Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jairam Ramesh under Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who is said to be a front runner for replacing Mr. Deshmukh. It is being said that if Mr. Shinde moves to Maharashtra, then Mr. Ramesh would get independent charge of the Power Ministry as Minister of State.

Mr. Shinde, a Dalit leader, is also considered a preferred choice to counter Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, who is making forays into Maharashtra.

On Sunday, when asked if the State government was “stable,” Ms. Gandhi said: “very stable.”

But insiders said that this remark, general in nature, did not necessarily earn a reprieve for Mr. Deshmukh. No decision, however, was expected until the budget session of the Maharashtra Assembly got over.