Dr. Manmohan Singh praises Pawar, UPA row ebbs for now

New Delhi: The flare up in the UPA appeared to have settled down today evening after both Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and ally NCP made an attempt to mollify each other. While Dr. Singh said Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was a “great asset”, the party clarified 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. The Congress too downplayed the crisis.

Janardan Dwivedi, Congress leader, said, “NCP has given clarification… Prime Minister has also spoken. There can be different viewpoint among allies on an issue but a solution can be found through talks.” Realising the gravity of the situation, Dr. Manmohan Singh met Pawar Thursday night while Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi heard him Friday morning.

On the other hand, with NCP’s grievances aired before the Congress leadership, Pawar’s associate Praful Patel said their party was integral to UPA and rubbished speculation that they were quitting.

“We are unhappy with some aspects raised by Pawar in personal meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. The issue is not about resignation at all,” Patel said after a meeting with his colleagues Tariq Anwar and D.P. Tripathi.

Plus, NCP sources said the Maratha leader had been pressing for better UPA coordination and was feeling left out of key decisions on foreign equity in retail and the proposed food security bill. They said Pawar was also upset over reports that Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, his one-time protege, may be the new leader of the Lok Sabha after Pranab Mukherjee’s exit from cabinet.

Even though Patel downplayed Pawar’s reported unhappiness over not been accorded the number 2 slot in the cabinet, NCP sources said he was indeed concerned over the development.

“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 before the people,” he said.

Political observers said Pawar’s unease could also be related to the functioning of Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The NCP is a coalition partner in Maharashtra.

In addition, the NCP has nine members in the Lok Sabha and has been in the UPA since 2004. The party will meet again Monday.

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