Sonia begins consultations on Deshmukh's fate

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New Delhi, Apr 8 (UNI) A decision on a possible replacement of Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is likely after the completion of the ongoing session of the state assembly, Congress sources said today.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi has already set in motion the process of consultations with senior party leaders on the matter.

The sources denied the reports that Ms Gandhi had appointed a three-member panel to assess the party's position in Maharashtra under the leadership of Mr Deshmukh and to screen potential successors.

''Ms Gandhi began consultations with senior party leaders a few weeks ago. There is no formal panel or anything. Nor is there any immediate development warranting any quick change in the present set up in Maharashtra,'' a senior Congress leader told UNI.

However, the leader hinted at the possibility of a change of guard in Maharashtra after the ongoing budget session of the state assembly. The budget session is expected to come to an end this week.

There was talk of Mr Deshmukh being summoned by the Congress High Command to Delhi on Sunday as a prelude to his removal from the post.

The allocation of the additional portfolio of power to Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh in Sunday's reshuffle is seen as an indication of shifting Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to Mahrashtra to replace Mr Deshmukh.

In the event of Mr Shinde being shifted to Maharashtra, Mr Deshmukh would be made a General Secretary in the All India Congress Committee, whose reshuffle is expected this week to make changes in the party apparatus consequent of the expansion of the Union Cabinet.

The Congress Party has reportedly decided to project Mr Shinde as a Dalit face to counter BSP leader and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.

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