Congress tries hard to mollify Sharad Pawar

The Congress core group met also took up the issue at a meeting Friday evening and party sources said afterwards that the matter concerning NCP had been "settled."

Updated: Jul 21, 2012, 10:35 AM IST

New Delhi: The Congress on Friday reached out to Nationalist Congress Party after it expressed unhappiness about some aspects of the coalition`s working but the strain in their ties continued with NCP deciding to meet Monday to take a final decision on the issues it has raised.

Congress leadership tried through the day to send a positive message across to its estranged ally with party president Sonia Gandhi meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar in the morning and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh terming him a great asset.

The Congress core group met also took up the issue at a meeting Friday evening and party sources said afterwards that the matter concerning NCP had been "settled." They said the issue was more to do with coordination in the government than any fight for number two position in the union cabinet.

However, NCP sources said they were waiting for the Congress to reach out to them in more concrete terms.

"We will meet Monday afternoon to take a decision. The number two position in the order of precedence is not the issue, the issue is much larger," a NCP leader told a news agency.

He did not rule out the possibility of its ministers quitting and the party giving outside support to UPA government if their issues were not resolved.

The prime minister, who had spoken to Pawar Thursday, sought to reach out to him, saying his experience had benefited the government.

"Sharad Pawar is a very valued colleague whose knowledge, wisdom and experience are a great asset to our government," the prime minister said, a day after Pawar and his party colleague and Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel boycotted the cabinet meeting.

Congress sought to downplay the crisis.

"NCP has given clarification... Prime minister has also spoken. There can be different viewpoint among allies on an issue but a solution can be found through talks," Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi said.

However the NCP earlier Friday conveyed in unambiguous terms that it was unhappy over some aspects of the coalition but said it continues to be integral part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

NCP leader Praful Patel said that the UPA government should be more decisive and should gear up for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

He had sidetracked questions about NCP ministers offering to quit.

"We are unhappy with some aspects raised by Pawar in personal meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi," Patel said after a meeting with his colleagues Tariq Anwar and DP Tripathi.

"The issue is not about resignations at all," he said.

NCP sources said Pawar had been pressing for better UPA coordination and was feeling left out of key decisions on foreign equity in retail and the proposed food security bill.

They said he was also upset over reports that Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, his one-time protege, may be the new leader of the Lok Sabha after Pranab Mukherjee`s exit from cabinet.

Although Patel downplayed Pawar`s reported unhappiness over not been accorded the number 2 slot in the cabinet, NCP sources said he was indeed concerned over the development.

Political observers said Pawar`s unease could also be related to the functioning of Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The NCP is a coalition partner in Maharashtra.

The NCP has nine members in the Lok Sabha and has been in the UPA since 2004.