Senior congress leaders are underplaying the nationalist Congress Party-Congress face off saying all is well between the two parties and that the Pawar-Praful duo are merely positioning themselves and that there are really no real problems which need to be addressed. Renu Mittal reports.
The Congress has claimed that all will be well by Monday, the deadline set by NCP chief Sharad Pawar when he has called another meeting of senior leaders.
But sources say there is much more to it than meets the eye and that the Congress is merely in 'bravado mode' based on the limited options available with Pawar. Sources close to Pawar say he is serious in taking on the Congress and its leadership, and is in line for some hard bargaining with them, failing which he would prefer to sit it out and offer outside support to the United Progressive Alliance government.
It is learnt that he has three serious demands, while the rest are merely peripheral:
The first is that he wants to be given one of the top 4 portfolios in the UPA Government. Leaders close to him say that it is unacceptable that Rahul Gandhi would be made a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security and he would be kept out of it.
The second is the removal of Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who has been needling the NCP, and at the same time, has acquired the image of a leader who is sitting on files allowing them to pile up and is not taking decisions.
As a result, both the Congress and the NCP leaders allege that all development work in Maharashtra has come to a halt and this is affecting infrastructure planning among other things.
And the third is a change of Praful Patel's heavy industries portfolio to a portfolio with more meat and substance. Insiders say that Pawar is keen that his daughter Supriya Sule be inducted into the government in place of Union Minister Agatha Sangma, whom he wants dropped.
Though it would be the prerogative of Pawar to name whom he wants as a minister from his party, the problem is both father and daughter being made ministers in the same council of ministers along with the added problem that Agatha is a tribal from the north east.
Sources say that Pawar, who has a reputation for never being able to take the fight to its logical conclusion or even to go in for an 'aar-par ki ladai' (this way, or the other), this time around wants to bring the Congress leadership to a point by point hard bargaining where he wants to extract the maximum from the Congress in return for continuing to be in the government.
Pawar has raised the pitch substantially, but Congress leaders remain cool and unruffled, probably because of Sharad's reputation of not taking a fight to its logical conclusion.