NCP and government mend fences, PM praises Pawar

NCP and government mend fences, PM praises Pawar

In a sign that both sides were making that extra effort to smoothen relations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday reached out to NCP chief Sharad Pawar and said he was a "great asset" while the NCP clarified that it was unhappy but was not quitting the cabinet.

"Sharad Pawar is a very valued colleague whose knowledge, wisdom and experience are a great asset to our government," the prime minister said, a day after Agriculture Minister Pawar and his party colleague and Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel boycotted the cabinet meeting.

Manmohan Singh Thursday night also spoke to Pawar, a key member of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance since 2004. Any rift between the two parties has implications for the ruling alliance in which the NCP has nine Lok Sabha members.

Patel and Pawar were rumoured to have offered to resign from the cabinet apparently over the NCP chief not being given No.2 position in the government. 

On Friday, Pawar met Congress president Sonia Gandhi for 30 minutes at her 10 Janpath residence. NCP leaders, including Tariq Anwar and D.P. Tripathy, then met for two hours after which Patel addressed a press conference to clarify the party's position.

He said they were unhappy with the way the government was being run but there was no question of quitting the cabinet.

"We are unhappy with some aspects which have been raised by Pawar in personal meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi," Patel told reporters.Patel said NCP continues to be an "integral" part of the UPA.

"Till such time we have not formally resigned, there is no question (of resigning)... (The) issue is not about resignation at all," Patel told reporters. 

The minister also said that though the party had certain issues with the government for some months now, it did not raise them before the presidential election. 

"We chose to send our communication after polling for presidential election ended at 5 p.m."

Patel said speculation that Pawar and he did not attend the cabinet meeting as the NCP chief had not been accorded the Number 2 status in the cabinet arose due to certain sections in the Congress "wrongly briefing the media".

He said the NCP wanted the government to gear up for the 2014 general election.

"The NCP has been one of the most responsible allies for the last eight years and has been one of the pillars of strength. We feel the UPA is entering its last two years before the next general elections. 

"The government must also be more decisive and more committed to the issues which are before the people."

He said Pawar had sent a letter to the prime minister raising issues related to the coalition. "Unfortunately there has been some speculation over the communication."The NCP is meeting again Monday.

Congress media department chairman Janardan Dwivedi declined to comment on the developments.

"We do not comment on our allies," he told reporters.

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