Smarting from the worst-ever debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan will expand his ministry on Thursday, in probably the last such exercise before the state Assembly elections due later this year.
Facing demands for his ouster following the drubbing, Chavan had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday, a move seen as an attempt to keep under check voices of dissent.
According to sources in the Congress-NCP government, Chavan is likely to fill in three unoccupied ministerial slots of the Congress quota, including that of a Cabinet minister and two Ministers of State.
There have been murmurs of dissent in Congress for a long time over these posts being kept vacant by Chavan.
Congress legislators Amit Deshmukh, son of former Chief Minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh, Kalyan Kale and Rohidas Patil are among the probables from Congress.
The post of a cabinet minister, which falls under NCP's share, is also vacant following the sacking of Medical Education Minister Vijaykumar Gavit after his daughter Heena contested from Nandurbar seat in the
Lok Saba polls on a BJP ticket against 9-term Congress MP Manikrao Gavit and won.
Besides, the term of NCP's Minister of State for Education, Health and Culture Fouzia Khan as MLC has ended.
There had been complaints against her for not cooperating with official NCP candidate in Parbhani during the Lok Sabha polls.
Sources said senior NCP leader Suryakanta Patil is a frontrunner for the Cabinet berth, while state NCP working president Jitendra Awhad and Sharad Gavit may get the position likely to be vacated by Fouza Khan.
A surprise name doing the rounds in political circles as Khan's replacement is Sharad Gavit, Samajwadi Party MLA and brother of Vijaykumar Gavit, despite the Congress-NCP combine not having any alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav's party in Maharashtra.
According to sources, Vijaykumar Gavit is an NCP heavyweight and the party does not want to break off all ties with him. They said if SP objects to Sharad Gavit's inclusion in the ministry, he may resign and continue as a minister till the Assembly polls, due in less than six months.
Under the law, an individual can continue as a minister for six months without getting elected to the legislature.
Chavan, who was sent from Delhi to take over the reins in 2010 after Ashok Chavan had to step down over his alleged involvement in the Adarsh scam, deftly handled dissidence in his own party and differences with fractious coalition ally NCP but faced a big blow in the Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress's tally slumped to an all-time low of two and NCP's four in Maharashtra which sends 48 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Facing criticism for the party's abysmal performance, Chavan accepted responsibility for the defeat, triggering demand for his removal which was dismissed by the Congress leadership.