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NCP puts off plans to pull out of UPA govt, for now
* Final decision in a day or two, says Cong ally
* Pawar, Praful skip PMs dinner
Anita Katyal/TNS

New Delhi, July 23
Estranged UPA ally NCP today deferred a decision to pull out of the government, signalling that back-channels efforts in the Congress are working overtime to arrive at a settlement with its partner.

However, the NCP kept up the pressure on the government as party chief Sharad Pawar and his deputy Praful Patel skipped the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday evening for outgoing President Pratibha Patil. The two leaders did attend the farewell ceremony for Patil held earlier in Parliament House.

Today's crucial meeting of NCP leaders, which was to decide on the party's continuation in the UPA government, ended inconclusively. Praful later told the media that no decision could be taken as most of its members from Maharashtra could not come to Delhi for today's meeting.

Maintaining that the issues raised by them had yet to be addressed by the Congress, Patel indicated that the NCP has not given up on its option to stay out of the government and extend it outside support. "By tomorrow or day after, a final decision will be taken," he said, adding that till then it is a status quo.

While holding out this threat, Patel also underlined that the NCP "was part of the UPA government and will continue to be a part of it", stating that their party is a responsible constituent both at the Centre and in Maharashtra. "Our relationship with the UPA will continue till 2014", he emphasised repeatedly.

With nine Lok Sabha members and a coalition government in Maharashtra, the NCP's options are limited. It can mount pressure on a vulnerable Congress but it will be difficult for it to walk out of the government.

Playing down the rift between the two parties, the Congress said that all outstanding issues would be settled through discussions. "In coalition politics, such situations arise and are solved through dialogue and mutual understanding," AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said today.

However, sources in the two parties disclosed that the real reason for the escalating tension between them actually lies in Maharashtra where the NCP and the Congress run a coalition government. In fact, Patel acknowledged that they were acting on the direction of its state unit.

The NCP state leaders, particularly Pawar's nephew and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, are upset over a spate of graft charges which have surfaced against them. Blaming Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for running a virtual campaign against them, the NCP is pressing the Congress for a leadership change. The Congress is unlikely to concede this demand as it would send out a signal that it is willing to remove an honest Chief Minister under pressure from its ally. The Congress could accommodate its sulking partner by giving NCP better portfolios when the PM undertakes the next Cabinet reshuffle.NCP chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi three days ago listing a host of grievances regarding the unilateral style of functioning of the UPA government while pointing to the lack of coordination with the allies. NCP ministers Pawar and Patel have not attended office since then and its junior minister Agatha Sangma today told Pawar that she will tow the party line.

Maharashtra real trigger of rift?

  • NCP state leaders, particularly Pawar's nephew and deputy CM Ajit Pawar, are upset over graft charges against them
  • Blaming CM Prithviraj Chavan, the NCP is pressing the Congress for a leadership change
  • The Congress is not keen on it as it would send out a signal that it is willing to remove an honest CM

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