NATIONAL

NCP chooses young Minister to head Maharashtra unit

MUMBAI MARCH 30. In a bid to tune itself to the Assembly elections due in mid-2004, the Nationalist Congress Party today picked R. R. Patil, a young Minister in the coalition Government here, to head its Maharashtra unit. Mr. Patil was persuaded by the party leader, Sharad Pawar and his colleagues to don the mantle and was "elected" unopposed today.

Mr. Patil, an MLA from Sangli district, is not only a blue-eyed boy of Mr. Pawar, but also is known to be an efficient Minister.

With the Rural Development portfolio, he successfully took to democratising the panchayati raj institutions. He launched a campaign to clean up villages by inspiring the residents to contribute funds and labour, conserve water, dispose wastes properly, and by teaching them personal hygiene. In return, the villagers were rewarded and given priority in Government schemes. It cost the State little but inspired an investment of Rs. 500 crores a year.

He becomes the third chief of the NCP in its brief history, with Chhagan Bhujbal, the present Deputy Chief Minister leading the State unit prior to the 1999 elections. He was succeeded by Babanrao Pachpute, a former Janata Dal man who migrated to Congress(I) by leading a split and then remained with Mr. Pawar when he formed the NCP on an anti-Sonia Gandhi platform.

This change — so is the replacement of Chandrakant Tripathi by Sachin Ahir as the Mumbai unit chief today, to combat the Shiv Sena in its stronghold — is seen as a serious bid to revamp the party to meet the demands of the elections.

The list of officials, who would assist Mr. Patil would be finalised in a week or two, sources said.

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