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Cong. sees chance to cut Pawar to size
New Delhi, Jan 27 (Agencies):
Published on 28 Jan. 2010 12:00 AM IST
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The Congress may have decided to hold fire after Sharad Pawar clarified that he was not targeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the price rise issue. But the party doesn’t seem to be in a mood to forgive and forget. The Congress Working Committee (CWC), which meets next week, is likely to discuss the issue of taking away consumer affairs ministry from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief. There is a growing view in the Congress, especially in its Maharashtra unit, that Pawar’s wings should be clipped and he should not hold agriculture and consumer affairs portfolios simultaneously. “He has been given sweeping powers with important ministries at his disposal. (But) when he is asked about rising prices, he deflects the question, saying he is the agriculture minister,” said a Congress minister from Maharashtra. “It’s Pawar’s job, as the consumer affairs minister, to keep the prices in check. It was he who took decisions on import and export of food commodities.It was he who allowed futures trading of food commodities. He wants to take the entire credit of increasig minimum support price to farmers. When it comes to rising prices, he shifts the blame to the cabinet,” he said. The Congress doesn’t want Pawar to have a free run any longer. “He has failed miserably on all counts. As the agriculture minister, he gets to know at least six months in advance what the volumes are going to be. With those estimates at his disposal, he should be deciding on export-import of food commodities. He did not do that for the last four years, which has led to the current situation,” a state Congress leader said. He pointed out that though Pawar blamed the cabinet committee for price rise, it was the consumer affairs ministry that initiated proposals on import and export of food commodities, to be finally cleared by the commerce ministry. State Congress leaders refuse to buy Pawar’s claim that the inflation is because farmers are being paid higher prices. “The rot has set in since 2005 after he took over. It started with wheat. No domestic purchases were made and wheat was imported at a higher cost. Pawar offered Rs 650 per quintal to the farmers, while they were offered Rs 1,000 per quintal in the market,” said a Congress leader. “ Pulses followed suit next year as the agriculture ministry did not import despite knowing that production was going to be low. “ And now sugar prices have gone through the roof. But he still doesn’t want to admit he has failed,” he added. A Maharashtra Congress functionary said the issue of inflation and its handling by Pawar’s ministry is likely to be raised in the CWC meeting, but by members from other states. The high command doesn’t want it to be seen as an anti- Pawar campaign by the Maharashtra Congress unit so as to avoid jeopardising the coalition government in the state, he said. “The idea is also to see how Pawar responds to the move. A section of the party wants Rahul Gandhi to take over towards the end of the year. Pawar, in that scenario, may opt out of the ministry. If we clip his wings now, it will be easier for us to handle him then,” said the Congress leader. The Opposition, too, has trained its guns on the agriculture minister. Former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya said: “In 2008, the government said there were bumper buffer stocks of sugar in the country and allowed its export. This continued even as the situation worsened. “For months, India was the only country that was importing and exporting sugar simultaneously. Worse, the import was at double the price than the export. How did Pawar not know this?” Pawar’s staunchest political adversary and BJP’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Gopinath Munde, however, doesn’t blame Pawar entirely. “The assurance that inflation will be reduced within 100 days was given by the Prime Minister. Has he given such a free run to Pawar that he cannot control him? The Congress can’t evade responsibility,” Munde said.

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