New Delhi, Apr 8: The Congress Party today denied that a panel had been created to screen potential successors for Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Minister of State for Home and senior Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed described rumours of the panel formation as "mere media speculation". Earlier in the day, reports suggested that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had appointed a three-member committee to assess the party's position in Maharashtra under Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh leadership and to screen potential successors.
According to party sources, the panel formed on Tuesday included External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister A K Antony. On Sunday, ahead of the Union Cabinet expansion, there was talk of Deshmukh being removed from the post. A decision wss expected to be taken after the completion of Maharashtra Assembly's Budget Session. The last date of the ongoing session is not fixed yet and is subject to the decision of the Business Advisory Committee that meets on April 10.
It was also rumoured that Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is a frontrunner to replace Deshmukh.
The appointment of Minister of State (MoS) for Commerce Jairam Ramesh as the MoS in the power ministry is a crucial change that could turn out to be a step ahead of moving Shinde out. Deshmukh is expected to be rehabilitated as All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary.
"A Dalit leader, Shinde, can strengthen the party's base among Dalits at a time when Bahujan Samaj party (BSP) leader Mayawati is making forays into it," the sources said.