Tuesday, October 14, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Cong plays down ‘ultimatum’ to NCP
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 13
The Congress today played down the crisis facing the coalition government in Maharashtra, saying the party did not wish to ‘vacate’ the political space in the state for ‘communal forces’ and it was for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to clarify its stand.

Party spokesman Anand Sharma tried to keep the focus away from NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s attack on the foreign origin of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, saying that it was a ‘non-issue’. He, however, flayed Mr Pawar for his alleging proximity between the Congress and the BJP at his election rally speech in the capital last week.

Maharashtra Congress chief Ranjit Deshmukh, in the capital on the summons of party high command, today beat a hasty retreat on the issue of his ultimatum to Mr Pawar on Ms Gandhi’s foreign origin. Mr Deshmukh said that he had not given any ultimatum to Mr Pawar to clarify his remarks on the foreign origin issue.

The ‘ultimatum’ had evoked a strong reaction from the NCP, threatening the existence of the coalition government in Maharashtra.

Senior AICC leaders today tried the explain the ‘ultimatum’ as an expression of anger and resentment by Maharashtra Congressmen at the remarks of Mr Pawar. Mr Deshmukh today met AICC General Secretary in charge of Maharashtra Vyalar Ravi and was expected to meet Ms Gandhi tomorrow.

The Congress, which has been put in an uneasy position by the NCP’s refusal to tone down the foreign origin issue, was weighing its options. Party sources said that Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was likely to arrive in the capital soon for consultations with the high command.

The Congress, which was unhappy with the NCP over its ‘passive role’ in the Solapur Lok Sabha byelection, had been further angered by Mr Pawar’s remarks. One of the factors weighing being considered by the Congress leadership was the impact of its decision in Maharashtra on the party’s fortunes in the states facing elections in November.


Threat to Maharashtra Government blows over
S. Iyer

Mumbai, October 13
The spat between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party over Ms Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin that threatened to dislodge the Democratic Front government in Maharashtra showed signs of blowing over today.

Bowing to pressure from fellow Congress MLAs, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee President Ranjit Deshmukh denied that the Congress party would pull out of the Maharashtra Government if Mr Sharad Pawar did not withdraw his comments on Ms Sonia Gandhi within a week.

After Mr Deshmukh’s remarks at a press conference here yesterday, there was a hectic behind-the-scene activity as party leaders attempted a damage-control exercise to keep the government going. Party sources here say Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde of the Congress, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Mr Praful Patel of the NCP were actively trying to avert a crisis.

In Delhi to meet Ms Sonia Gandhi, Mr Deshmukh denied the remarks attributed to him and said he had not warned Mr Pawar of dire consequences if he did not withdraw his remarks on Ms Sonia Gandhi. Mr Deshmukh, however, added that the decision to continue with the coalition government with the NCP rested with Ms Sonia Gandhi, party officials said here.

Congress leaders like Member of Parliament Suresh Kalmadi, a former confidant of Mr Pawar, added fuel to the fire by stating that the time was ripe for the Congress and the NCP to snap ties.

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