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Sharad Pawar may name Bhujbal's successor today

MUMBAI DEC. 24. A decision on who should succeed Chagan Bhujbal, who quit the post of Deputy Chief Minister on Tuesday, will be taken by the Nationalist Congress Party chief, Sharad Pawar, and an announcement will probably be made tomorrow.

All the NCP MLAs present at the party's two-day meeting today authorised Mr. Pawar to choose the next leader. The participants also discussed the strategies to be adopted for the next elections and, according to Praful Patel, party spokesman, rallied behind Mr. Bhujbal.

"The party stands by Mr. Bhujbal. It condemns the attack on Zee TV, which could be a conspiracy by others to defame the NCP," he said.

When the NCP was formed and its legislative wing came into being after the 1999 elections, Mr. Pawar announced that unlike the Congress, his party would break new ground in democratic practices. The leader of the legislature party would be elected. In the contest that followed, Mr. Bhujbal got a thumping lead over the other two candidates, Vijaysinh Mohite Patil and Padmasinh Patil. But when the votes were counted, Mr. Pawar was approached and it was decided that the break up would not be announced and the other two candidates would propose Mr. Bhujbal's name. The consensus today was that Mr. Pawar should pick a candidate and the legislature party would vote for him unanimously.

Apparently, the party does not want the internal strains to surface, especially with the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls not so far off.

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