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Since 1st March, 1999
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Pawar waves off Cong ultimatum
Sharad Pawar: Unruffled

New Delhi, Oct. 12: The Nationalist Congress Party today rejected the Congress’ seven-day ultimatum to withdraw its comments against party chief Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, casting a shadow on the survival of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra.

NCP leader Sharad Pawar today said the issue would be raised during the Assembly polls and told the Congress it was free to take any decision, including snapping ties in Maharashtra as it had threatened.

“Congress is free to take any decision, including snapping of ties in Maharashtra.... There is no change in the NCP stand on Sonia’s foreign origin,” Pawar told reporters in Shirur, Maharashtra.

“The foreign origin issue is not new at all. This was the reason why the Congress expelled us and we formed the NCP four years ago,” NCP general secretary Tariq Anwar said in Delhi.

The issue, he said, was very much alive even when the Congress and the NCP decided to form a coalition in Maharashtra to keep the BJP and the Shiv Sena out.

The Congress-led coalition in Maharashtra has 70 Congress members and 55 of the NCP. The state is headed for simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha polls next year.

The dispute between the coalition partners was rekindled when Pawar raked up Sonia’s foreign origin at a public rally in Delhi a couple of days ago.

The Congress leadership in Maharashtra, on its part, held the NCP guilty for the loss of the Solapur Lok Sabha seat, charging Pawar with not campaigning for the Congress candidate during the byelections.

Pawar rebuffed the charge, saying the Congress-NCP tie-up was applicable only at the Assembly level and not for the Lok Sabha polls.

Relations between the Congress and the NCP had improved four months ago when it seemed that Pawar was ready to give a go-by to Sonia’s foreign origin, at least for the time being. However, the situation took a turn after the NCP leader referred to the Congress’ “imported leadership” at the rally.

Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy yesterday demanded an apology from Pawar.

Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Ranjit Deshmukh served a seven-day ultimatum to the NCP leader, asking him either to retract his statement or face “severe” consequences.

But the NCP is in no mood to oblige. “Jab tak woh sarkar chalana chahata hai, tab tak chalaenge. Agar nahi chalana hai to nahi (As long as they want to run the government, we will run it. If they don’t want to run it, we have no problem),” Pawar said today.

Party spokesperson Praful Patel, said to be close to Pawar, rejected outright the tendering of either an apology or a clarification.

“We don’t have to give a clarification to anyone. The Congress has a right to make its own decision — whether or not it wants to stay in the government,” said Patel.

Party general secretary Anwar termed the ultimatum “childish” but hoped the Congress would not aggravate the row any further. Deshmukh, however, has said the Congress would not put up with any attack on its leadership.

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