The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia no to Pawar

New Delhi, May 30: Alliance partner, yes, but happy birthday' No.

Sonia Gandhi is understood to have turned down Sharad Pawar’s invitation to address the foundation day convention of his Nationalist Congress Party in Surat next month.

Sources said Sonia, wary of being seen as condoning Pawar and his top NCP colleagues for splitting the Congress because of her foreign origin, has conveyed her inability to attend the June 10 meet. She might instead depute a senior colleague, the sources added.

Pawar had “personally” invited Sonia when he met her on May 10. A week ago, he sent a formal invitation.

After the NCP went public with its invitation, the Congress leadership feigned ignorance about it. Sonia herself sidestepped the issue when reporters asked her about the invite recently.

The decision to stay away from the meet is believed to have been taken after due deliberation. The sources said while exigencies of coalition politics had compelled the Congress to enter into an alliance with the NCP, both in Maharashtra and at the Centre, Sonia has not forgotten how it came into being six years ago.

An NCP leader, however, said he was not surprised. “They (the Congress leadership) seem to be not prepared to embrace us yet. Because, many in the Congress think that we will return to the parent party,” he said.

“But as far as we are concerned, our separate identity is a political reality and voters in Maharashtra have recognised this by electing the NCP as the single largest party in the last Assembly polls.”

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