The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shekhawat calls on ‘good friend’ Pawar

New Delhi, May 8: Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat today called on Sharad Pawar, who has just returned from London after a medical check-up.

The meeting at the Nationalist Congress Party chief’s residence may not have attracted much attention at another time for the two leaders are good friends. But with counting of votes just five days away and some doubts over whether the National Democratic Alliance will need to turn to other parties if it falls short of a majority, the meeting has raised a few eyebrows.

Neither Pawar nor Shekhawat were willing to comment on the meeting, with the NCP leader leaving for Pune soon after.

Pawar had taken nearly 10 days off during campaigning in Maharashtra to undergo surgery at Mumbai early last month and left for London for further medical attention soon after polling ended in the state. He was suffering from a malignant ulcer in his mouth.

Pawar, whose NCP is expected to win about a dozen seats, has allied with the Congress, but no one in that party is certain about his post-poll strategy. However, it is believed that Pawar’s party will continue its alliance with the Congress since Assembly elections are due in Maharashtra later this year.

Just before electioneering began, the BJP had made tentative attempts to rope in Pawar as an ally in Maharashtra. The NCP and Congress are allies in the Sushil Kumar Shinde-led Democratic Front coalition in the state.

The Maharashtra leader broke away from the Congress in 1999 over Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin and formed the NCP. Last month, Pawar and Sonia shared a dais for the first time in five years when they addressed a rally in Solapur jointly.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said this evening that his party viewed Shekhawat’s meeting with Pawar in the “health context” and did not think it had anything to do with government formation. But he added that if there was anything more to the meeting of a high-ranking constitutional functionary with a political leader, “we would look into it”.

Singhvi pointed out that BJP leaders like Rajasthan governor Madan Lal Khurana and his Haryana counterpart Babu Parmanand, who are now constitutional functionaries, were guilty of “clearly exceeding the (constitutional) limits”. While Parmanand was alleged to have sought votes for the Prime Minister, Khurana had criticised the previous Congress government in his speech to the Assembly.

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