Pawar pressures Congress

Meets Sonia, threatens to pull out of UPA government

Pawar pressures Congress

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Friday threatened to pull out of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, nursing grievances of ill-treatment meted out to the party by the Congress.

The party’s threat came a day after its senior minister Sharad Pawar and his junior colleague Praful Patel boycotted a meeting of the Union Cabinet on Thursday, expressing displeasure over the functioning of the UPA.

The party said it would continue to support the UPA from outside and be a partner of the coalition. The NCP also planned “to strengthen the party.”

The Congress on Friday got into damage control mode seeking to mollify NCP leader and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar by praising him while the party’s leadership discussed the grievances of the ally. 

While the Congress maintained that the issues that had cropped up in the coalition would be resolved, the NCP asserted that there were “serious issues” with the functioning of the government and running of the coalition by the Congress. A senior NCP leader alleged that “the Congress has not been” taking its allies into confidence in the functioning of the government. “And the Congress takes unilateral decisions on most issues. A coalition partner cannot be treated like a servant.”

As the NCP stepped up its attack on the Congress with party’s senior leader and Union Heavy Industry Minister Praful Patel blaming the media for highlighting that had Pawar demanded No 2 position in the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi sought to reach out to him.

Singh met him on Thursday night and Gandhi on Friday morning but that failed to mollify Pawar, which led to speculations that the reports about his resignation from the ministry might indeed be true.

Pawar is understood to have written to Gandhi and Singh that he wanted to pull out from the government though his party would continue to support the UPA from outside while staying in the coalition.

The paty has nine members in the Lok Sabha and seven in the Rajya Sabha and is a junior coalition partner of the Congress in Maharashtra for the past 13 years. “We will remain an integral part of the UPA,” Patel said in the morning.

The Congress core committee, which met in the evening, is understood to have discussed the issue. “We have resolved the differences,” a senior Congress minister said after the meeting.

As differences came to the fore, Singh issued a statement praising Pawar. “Mr Sharad Pawar is a very valued colleague of mine whose knowledge, wisdom and experience are a great asset to our government,” he remarked.

However, a senior NCP leader, who didn’t want to be named, said: “The Congress takes its alliance partners for granted and never consults its allies while appointing governors, nominating Rajya Sabha members or even in the appointment of directors of various banks. Are we allies only to the extent of ministries or portfolios we hold? Where is any ally in the loop on any decision?”

The leader further said the NCP was also “unhappy with the functioning of the Congress leadership in Maharashtra, but party’s central leadership never responds to our concerns.”

Praful Patel, while rejecting the reports that Pawar and he had offered to resign from the government, asserted that "we do have certain issues on which we want some new direction."

Patel said at a press meet that media hype that Pawar “hankering for No 2 in government was absurd.”

Another senior NCP leader claimed that though pecking order in the Union Cabinet was never an issue with Pawar, the party was hurt by the manner in which the matter had been handled by the Congress.

Pawar sat in the No 2 seat in the first Cabinet meeting after Pranab Mukherjee's resignation. However, in the next meeting the seat was taken by Defence Minister and senior Congress leader A K Antony.

The signs of rift between the two parties were apparent when Pawar and Patel boycotted the Cabinet meeting.

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