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Cong fires quit threat at Pawar

New Delhi, Oct. 11: The post-Solapur bypoll friction in the ruling coalition in Maharashtra has come out in the open with the Congress taking serious exception to Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar’s attack on Sonia Gandhi and threatening to pull out of the alliance.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, through his unrestrained and unseasonal remarks against Sonia Gandhi, has posed a threat to his party’s coalition with the Congress in Maharashtra,” a senior Congress leader said here tonight.

The Congress leader’s remarks, which posed a threat to the Sushil Kumar Shinde-led government in Maharashtra, came within hours of an ultimatum by state party president Ranjit Deshmukh’s reported a seven-day ultimatum to Pawar at Mumbai to withdraw his remarks against Sonia or face the consequences.

“If Pawar does not change his stand towards the Congress president, a harsh decision will be taken after seven days, including snapping of its relation with NCP in the state,” Deshmukh was quoted as saying in Mumbai.

Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy also issued a statement tonight, objecting to Pawar’s remarks against Sonia. At a campaign meeting yesterday for the Delhi Assembly elections, Pawar had raised the issue of Sonia’s foreign origin and accused the leader of Opposition of having a tacit understanding with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee not to attack each other.

The Congress spokesman said Pawar’s remarks were “erroneous and misleading”. While Sonia went on to attack the Vajpayee government during the recent no-confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha, Pawar did not even participate in it, he said. Pawar’s party also broke ranks with the Opposition over the boycott of Samata leader George Fernandes, he asserted.

Instead of making baseless charges against the Congress chief, Pawar must look at his own record, the Congress leader said.

The public spat between the coalition partners in Maharashtra came in the backdrop of a strong feeling among state Congress leaders that Pawar had sabotaged the party’s prospects in the recent Solapur Lok Sabha bypoll. Senior Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Balram Jakhar, whom Sonia had asked to inquire into the Solapur debacle, are expected to give their report to the party chief in a day or two.

The party’s central leadership also believes that Pawar’s raking up the issue of Sonia’s foreign origin is an indication of the NCP leader’s intention to work for a third front for next year’s parliamentary elections.

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