July 6, 2010 1:49:49 am
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and asked that he be relieved of some ministerial responsibilities so that he could devote more time to the NCP,the party he heads.
The Prime Minister is understood to have told Pawar that he will get back to him in a week. The NCP chiefs move,besides raising questions about his intent,has also triggered speculation that a Cabinet reshuffle could be in the offing.
Pawar has faced flak from Opposition parties as well as the Congress in the last few months over the inability to arrest inflationary trends of food grains and other essential items.
I met the Prime Minister today and asked him to relieve me from some of the responsibilities that I am holding, Pawar told The Indian Express.
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The senior minister,who has held the responsibility of Agriculture and Cooperation,Consumer Affairs,Food and Public Distribution for the last six years,denied that the move had anything to do with his new responsibility as president of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
I want the burden to be lesser so that I can give some time to my party work, Pawar said. He also heads three GoMs one on education,the other on judicial accountability and the third relating to chemicals and fertilisers.
Sidestepping a question on the response he got to his request,Pawar said it was the prerogative of the Prime Minister to decide on work allocation to Cabinet members. Sources in the PMO indicated that in the event of a restructuring,Pawar would most likely be relieved of the Food and Consumer Affairs portfolio,the ministry controlling the prices of food grains.
According to NCP sources,Pawars own thinking appears to be that the agriculture portfolio has a better profile,even though the ministry deals largely with policy framing. PMO sources,however,said that the Prime Minister was unlikely to take immediate action on Pawars request,unless he decides to go ahead with a reshuffle of the Cabinet.
There has been some talk that Singh could go for a reshuffle before the monsoon session of Parliament starts on July 26. A senior Congress functionary,when asked about the possibility of a reshuffle,did not rule it out.
UPA circles are still trying to read Pawars intentions with some leaders viewing it as a possible move to get his daughter Supriya Sule inducted as a Minister of State. A first-time MP,Sule was elected to Lok Sabha from Pawars pocketborough Baramati in 2009 and is widely seen as his successor in the party. Pawar had three MoS during UPA I to assist him but this time,he has a lone minister,Prof K V Thomas,as his junior.
Some others feel that the NCP action could also result in an elevation of close Pawar aide Praful Patel from his present status as Minister of State for Civil Aviation (Independent charge) to that of a full-fledged Cabinet minister. After all,when we are giving up something,it is only logical that the UPA leadership balances it in some other way, an NCP functionary said.
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