Fresh attack on Pawar widens Cong-NCP rift

Written by fe Bureaus | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 28 2009, 03:28am hrs
Ahead of Assembly elections in Maharashtra, the battle for one-upmanship within the Congress-NCP alliance sharpened on Wednesday with Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar coming under sharp attack from a senior Congress leader, who accused the latter of mismanaging the food stock situation in the country.

Levelling direct charges against Pawar, Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi said that the minister had misrepresented facts on the availibility of sugar in the country and was not able to devise policies to the advantage of farmers. If the stock of sugar was there and the mills were full of sugar stocks, then how did the shortage take place Chaturvedi said, speaking at a farmers function in the capital.

Quoting Pawar, the Congress leader said he had talked earlier about sufficient sugar stocks but now he says there would be shortage of sugar. Now his statement comes that there would be a shortage of sugar and due to (poor crop of) sugarcane, sugar will have to be imported, he said.

An embarrassed Congress party, however, sought to disassociate itself from Chaturvedis statement saying it was not aware of it and saying that it was primarily the responsibility of the state governments to fight drought. I am not aware of it (Chaturvedis statement), party spokesman Manish Tewari said. Asked whether Pawar had miscalculated the stocks, Tewari said this was not a man-made situation. He said that the agriculture ministry had taken steps to mitigate plight of farmers.

The accusations from Chaturvedi came even as the UPA on Tuesday evening held its first meeting of the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) to tackle the drought situation headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, of which Pawar too is a member. The meeting had discussed ways to ensure that farmers got the direct advantage of subsidies on fertilisers, seeds as well as diesel while ensuring that their crops did not go to waste in a drought situation. The union cabinet, in fact, is expected to take a slew of decision tomorrow with regard to sugar--including hiking the MSP on sugarcane.

The fresh attack on Pawar, whose party NCP is in alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra, however, is being seen in the context of coming Assembly polls in the state. Another senior AICC general secretary, Digvijay Singh, had last week questioned the relevance of NCP and had maintained that it was time now for the party to be merged with the Congress. Pawar had dismissed the contention, even as the Congress leadership had maintained that it was only a personal view voiced by Digvijay Singh.