Sharad Pawar to decide on pulling out of government before Thursday’s cabinet meet

New Delhi: Sharad Pawar’s party, the Nationalist Congress Party or NCP, is meeting tomorrow in Delhi to decide whether it will quit the union government and provide external support instead to the ruling UPA. Sources say that the NCP’s branch in Maharashtra has said that if the equation changes in Delhi, it will be untenable to continue its alliance with the Congress in Mumbai.   For three terms, Mr Pawar’s party and the Congress have co-governed the state, which will vote for its next government in 2014.

So far,  NCP leaders had said that a change in the equation at Delhi would not affect the government in Maharashtra. The altered stand will be read as posturing, or at best  an attempt to pressure the Congress and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who has come in for severe criticism from the NCP.

Sources say that Mr Pawar will convey the verdict on whether he’s in or out of the government to the Congress before Thursday’s cabinet meeting.  Last Friday, Mr Pawar and his deputy, Praful Patel, who is the minister for Heavy Industries, skipped the cabinet. Mr Pawar had on Thursday evening written to the Prime Minister alerting him to his party’s  grievances.

Senior NCP leaders have said that the Congress does not know how to run a coalition, and that is treats its allies like “a rubber stamp.” Since then, Mr Pawar and Mr Patel have not attended office.  Yesterday, they said they would skip government functions till they decide their relationship status with the Congress. However, so far,  NCP leaders had said that a change in the equation at Delhi would not affect the government in Maharashtra. The altered stand signals an attempt to pressure the Congress and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who has come in for severe criticism from the NCP.

The political negotiations may be hectic in Delhi, but it’s Maharashtra that is the Ground Zero of the dispute.  The Congress and the NCP have been in power in the state for three terms.  Mr Pawar’s ministers here have complained that they are not given any respect by the Congress. They have also accused  the chief minister of inefficiency. A section of the Congress has echoed that – more than half the party’s 82 state legislators have written to the party, complaining that the chief minister is inaccessible.

Sources on both sides say that while the rift between the Congress and the NCP is playing out as a tale of two cities – Delhi and Mumbai – it is the latter where the fault-lines appear deepest. In Maharashtra, sources say, the NCP’s top leaders, already feeling the heat from allegations of graft levelled by the opposition, are annoyed with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is perceived to be in a sort of clean-up mode. Incorrect, said Mr Patel on Monday. “There is a section of the Congress party which has been spreading these canards…maybe they have malicious pleasure in making Congress-NCP relations go bad…this has happened in the past,” he said.

Mr Chavan has also reportedly irked the NCP by asking for “a white paper” on irrigation. Till 2009, the Irrigation Ministry was led by Mr Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar. After that, it was given to the NCP’s Sunil Tatkare. The Opposition alleges that in a decade, 70,000 crores has been spent on dams with very little to show for it. The NCP, however, claims that Rs. 42,000 crores were spent and significant land was irrigated. The chief minister wants a complete statement of accounts for the last decade.

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