PM Modi to visit Pawar's bastion, NCP says committed to secularism

 Opposition NCP on Wednesday sought to ward off any potential criticism over the proposed visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the party chief Sharad Pawar's pocket-borough Baramati in Pune district next month, saying its commitment to the ideology of secularism is unwavering.

PTI| Last Updated: Jan 21, 2015, 22:40 PM IST

Mumbai: Opposition NCP on Wednesday sought to ward off any potential criticism over the proposed visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the party chief Sharad Pawar's pocket-borough Baramati in Pune district next month, saying its commitment to the ideology of secularism is unwavering.

NCP state unit President Sunil Tatkare said Modi was not coming for NCP meeting in Baramati but to visit the Agriculture Science Centre there.

"NCP has clarity of vision to its commitment to secularism and Modi's visit to Baramati on February 14 should not be inferred as the party moving closer to the BJP," Tatkar said while addressing a press conference here.

Interestingly, NCP, which lost the Assembly elections in the state last year after being at the helm for three terms along with alliance partner Congress, had announced outside support to BJP when it became clear that the saffron party has emerged as the single largest bloc.

Tatkare said NCP wanted Modi to see the development initiated by Sharad Pawar in Baramati and in agriculture sector.

In run-up to Lok Sabha elections last year, Modi had said he would liberate Baramati from the "slave-like" clutches of "chacha' (uncle Sharad Pawar) and "bhatija" (nephew Ajit Pawar who was the deputy chief minister in the Congress-NCP Maharashtra government).

When asked to comment on this particular statement of Modi, Tatkare said, "Ajit Pawar won with the highest margin."

Tatkare disclosed NCP was invited to join NDA at Centre after 1999 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, following a split in Congress in Maharashtra, and that deliberations were also held on the political realignment in the state.

"However, the NCP decided to join hands with Congress and form the government. Hence, we don't want anyone to question our secular credentials," he added.

To a query on senior NCP leader Praful Patel sharing the stage with BJP President Amit Shah at a function in Gondia next month and speculations over his warming up to BJP, Tatkare said, "Patel is the founding member of NCP and his loyalty to the party and Sharad Pawar is unflinching."

Tatkare said the agenda of the two-day meeting of the party in Pune on February 7 is to strengthen the organisation, hold discussions on party's objectives, policies and organisational elections as well as to formalise NCP's stand on the performance of ruling BJP government.

"We will also chart out our future agenda related to farmers' issues," he added.

Tatkare also chaired a meeting of NCP office-bearers and senior leaders here today to discuss state government's decision to withdraw benefits under the Food Security Act to 1.75 crore ration card-holders who fall in Above Poverty Line (APL) category.

He said it was due to NCP that APL card holders were included as beneficiaries and Rs 800 crore budgetary provision was made for the same.

Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde met Food and Civil Supplies Minister Girish Bapat and submitted a memorandum seeking review of the decision, Tatkare added.

If government fails to act, NCP will resort to an agitation from January 27.