Stepping up pressure on the Congress,Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Industries Minister Praful Patel today stayed away from office,a day after skipping a meeting of the union cabinet.
The Congresss attempts at damage control appear to have failed to mollify the NCP. Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi met Pawar for talks,and the PM described him as a very valued colleague whose knowledge,wisdom and experience were a great asset.
Sources said the NCP would decide its next course of action at a meeting of its working committee on Monday afternoon.
Despite the obvious strain,matters are unlikely to reach a breaking point given the jostling within the NCP over an imminent cabinet reshuffle. The party is reportedly looking for a replacement for Agatha Sangma,who has angered the NCP with her canvassing for father P A Sangma in the presidential poll. While many NCP leaders have requested Pawar to bring Supriya Sule into the council of ministers,he has reservations about both his daughter and him being in the government.
Patel too refuted reports that Pawar and he had resigned and reaffirmed that the NCP would remain a part and parcel of the UPA.
The PM had met Pawar for a discussion on Thursday evening soon after he received his communication complaining about the Congresss coalition management style,underlining that the NCPs views were never given due regard. Later Sonia called up Pawar,proposing a meeting. While she wanted to meet last night itself,the NCP chief suggested that it was late and that they meet Friday morning.
The Congress Core Group also met at the PMs residence. In an alliance government,different allies can look at an issue differently… There is no such serious problem. A solution will be found, said AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi.
The main issue,according to NCP sources,was the deteriorating governance situation in Maharashtra,which is intrinsically linked to the NCPs political survival. Pawar has reportedly conveyed to the highest levels in the Congress that he did not want the NCP to suffer the same fate as Lalu Prasads RJD in Bihar. A specific demand seems to be to establish some coordination in Delhi to manage concerns in Maharashtra.
The NCP apparently told the Congress that it would rather move out of the government and rebuild the party if it could not have a say in the Centre or the state. It pointed out that its services were used whenever the alliance needed the same,like in garnering support for Pranab Mukherjees presidential candidature,but were forgotten when gubernatorial appointments are made or during discussions for choosing the deputy leader of Rajya Sabha. The NCP is reportedly upset about the Congress planning to put up P J Kuriens candidature,and for not considering them important enough to be part of the Cabinet Committee on Security.
How do you explain the fact that the GoM to monitor public enterprises reforms does not include Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Minister Praful Patel? NCP general secretary and MP D P Tripathi told The Indian Express. If the power sharing arrangement has to be proportionate with the numbers,what about alloting some governors to allies as per their numerical strength? What about giving allies their share among nominated Rajya Sabha MPs or,for that matter,in different commissions and political appointments? added Tripathi.
Incidentally,a few years back,Pawars recommendation of making Janardhan Waghmare,currently a Rajya Sabha member,a governor had been ignored.
Briefing reporters,Patel said matters had come to such a point only because several issues raised by the NCP had been kept pending by the Congress leadership. The issue of Pawar not being No. 2 was being blown out of proportion,he added. Pawar is not such a petty leader who will raise such a petty issue himself. Our issues are larger… By virtue of his stature Pawar sits next to Sonia (in Parliament) and used to sit next to Pranab Mukherjee (in Cabinet meetings).
The contentious issues:
* Setting up of coordination committee for UPA
* Environmental clearances for Lavasa hill station project in Maharashtra
* Sports Bill,Minister Ajay Maken reportedly ignored Pawars views
* The pecking order in Cabinet
* Differences over raising MSP for farmers
* Matters regarding Maharashtra
* Food Bill
* Disinvestment of Scooters India,Praful Patels proposal rejected
* Pawar replaced as head of GoM on salt pan land in UPA II
* Recommendations for appointment of governors and other important officials ignored