The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong somersault lifeline to Pawar

New Delhi/ Mumbai, Oct. 13: The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party cohabitation in the Sushil Kumar Shinde-led government in Maharashtra is set to continue for the time being with state Congress chief Ranjit Deshmukh today retracting Saturday’s pullout threat.

Deshmukh, who is in the capital for consultations with the party high command, issued a virtual denial today, saying he had never issued any ultimatum to NCP chief Sharad Pawar to withdraw his foreign-origin remarks against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi or face consequences.

“What I had talked about was that Pawar speaks one thing in Maharashtra and another outside. So he should clarify,” Deshmukh said about his reported seven-day ultimatum to the NCP leader two days ago.

If Deshmukh did not explicitly make reassuring statements about the Congress-led Democratic Front government in the state, the party leadership stepped in to do so.

“We, from our side, do not wish to vacate the political space for the Shiv Sena and the BJP to walk in,” said party spokesman Anand Sharma. The party was committed to continuing with the Congress-NCP understanding at the state level and it was strictly confined to Maharashtra, added the Congress leader.

The NCP has welcomed Deshmukh’s statement today.

“We welcome the statement from the Congress,” said NCP general secretary Praful Patel. “It’s good they have retracted the earlier statement. But there was no reason to issue it in the first place. Pawar has always said that he was opposed to Sonia Gandhi’s leadership on account of her foreign origin.”

NCP leaders feel that Pawar can get away with such remarks as the Congress in the state cannot afford to lose the NCP as its coalition partner. “It can’t afford to step down from power in Maharashtra on the eve of crucial Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections,” said an NCP leader.

However, the high command did not find Deshmukh’s tough posturing on Saturday uncalled for. “He was reflecting the anger, hurt and outrage of party workers in Maharashtra against Pawar’s remarks about the Congress president,” Sharma said.

The leadership also hinted that a severing of ties with the NCP in Maharashtra would remain under active consideration. “Nothing can be ruled out, though nothing will happen through ultimatums,” asserted a senior Congress leader.

Deshmukh discussed the situation in the state with Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and party general secretary Vayalar Ravi. He is expected to meet the party chief tomorrow. Ravi announced that Sonia would visit the state for two days later this week.

Shinde is also expected in the capital on Wednesday for discussions on the post-Solapur situation in the state. This comes in the backdrop of Motilal Vora and Balram Jakhar not having submitted their report on the Solapur defeat to Sonia.

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