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HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times
Pune/Mumbai, February 26, 2013
Just a year before the 2014 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly polls, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar for the first time publicly credited Congress president Sonia Gandhi with "greatness" for declining to become Prime Minister after the 2004 general elections.

The union agriculture minister said at a function in Pune on Sunday night, "It is true that we had raised certain issues regarding the post of Prime Minister. However, it is the greatness of Sonia Gandhi that she did not accept the post. She will go down in history for turning down the prime ministerial post. We have accepted her greatness.''

Pawar's praise is being read in political circles as a clear indication that his party will align with the Congress in the coming Lok Sabha and assembly polls in Maharashtra.

"The candid admission by Pawar indicates that he will not antagonise or destabilise the coalition and is keen on continuing this alliance in 2014,'' said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

The statement is also a signal to his nephew and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and other senior NCP leaders that going solo in Maharashtra is not an option.

Sharad Pawar who had in 1999 rebelled against the Congress and floated his own party, NCP, on the grounds of Gandhi's foreign origin, decided to align with the Congress in Maharashtra and at the Centre after assembly polls in the state the same year.