Shinde—the Congress vice-presidential candidate last year—was in the running for the CM's seat half a dozen times but never made it. He finally got the chance after old pal Vilasrao Deshmukh was axed on January 16, having been put on notice more than six months ago. The next chair to go could well be that of deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which runs the state in coalition with the Congress. Caste equations demand at least one Maratha at the top and Bhujbal is an obc, albeit under the aegis of another Maratha, NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
According to Congress mlas, in spite of Shinde's elevation to the top job, the caste factor will work against him. As a Dalit CM who hails from the minuscule Dhor community, he is sure to face resistance from the powerful Maratha lobby which dominates Maharashtra politics. In the Congress and the NCP, Marathas hold all the key posts. With just three exceptions, all the state's CMs have been Marathas. Says a CWC member, "The Maratha lobby is not going to remain silent. Shinde will have to face a lot of trouble from that quarter. But he is a very affable man and we expect him to iron out differences." Some Congressmen say that the Dalit CM has been appointed deliberately to boost its image among the minorities but the Maratha factor could be a major thorn in Shinde's side. In fact, three distinct lobbies of legislators had told the aicc team of observers sent to assess their views that if the CM had to be replaced, it must be with a Maratha.