Lucknow: With just a day remaining for Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan to retire, the race for the next top bureaucrat in Uttar Pradesh has picked up. Sources say that while there was no unanimity in the 'first family' on who could be the "best bet" for the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), a decision is likely to be taken by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav next week after his return from London. Yadav is leaving for the UK on a five-day vacation on Wednesday night. Close aides to the Chief Minister said that Agriculture Production Commissioner (APC) Praveer Kumar is the choice of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. PWD Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav, still smarting under the embarrassment of QED merger being set aside, is pitching for his long-standing aide Deepak Singhal. The official has been the Principal Secretary of Irrigation for the past four years and is seen in bureaucratic circles as "quite a manager". He also in the good books of Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh, who made a comeback to the party after six years of ignominy. Singhal, however, has a "negative image" which does not work well with plans of Akhilesh to come across as heading a government with non-controversial names. Praveer Kumar, the present APC, is a suave man and known to be an honest official. But his low-profile image, many suggest, could be the stumbling block for the present dispensation, especially in an election year. "He is too meek, quiet to take up the baton from Alok Ranjan, known to be quite a darling of the media and officials," says a close aide of the Chief Minister. Another man in contention, sources say, is senior IAS official Rohit Nandan, who is currently on central deputation. A doer by-the-book and an extremely popular official with the media, 1982-batch official Nandan could be the dark horse, especially since the Chief Minister is known to prop up surprises these days. He is also seniormost in the batch of 1982, which is in the contention for the top job. "Nandan is a fine officer and could fit in both the 'Mr. Clean' image and that of a proactive official and he is credited with the near turnaround of the Air India," opines a senior bureaucrat, not wishing to be named. Nandan served for over four years as the CMD of national carrier Air India and is now serving as secretary at the Skill Development ministry. Mohd Azam Khan and Shivpal are also likely not to oppose his candidature, sources say. Azam Khan, an important man in the ministry, has been sulking for many reasons for the past few weeks and does not like either Singhal or Praveer Kumar. Will Akhilesh chose merit over connections? With the Chief Minister heading for a holiday and no clarity on the Chief Secretary, state's bureaucracy, for now, is keeping its fingers crossed.