Clearing the clouds over the fate of his party in the wake of P A Sangma warming up to Sonia Gandhi, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar on Sunday ruled out merger of his party with Congress, declaring that it would maintain to have its separate existence.
At the same time, the Union Agriculture Minister emphasised that the NCP's attitude has been one of understanding and cooperation with Congress and "will continue to be so".
He said his party favoured working together with Congress in the coming Assembly elections in Maharashtra and "we feel that the party's (Congress) leadership feels the same way, whatever some leaders in the state may be saying".
Pawar, whose party will be completing 10 years on June 10, dismissed as a media creation the impression that the NCP was on the horns of a dilemma of whether or not to join the Congress as the issue of foreign origin of Congress President Sonia Gandhi was no longer relevant.
The NCP strongman told PTI that the thrust of the thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru on which the party was based was on "decentralisation of decision making process" and "we believe that you can develop leadership (at the local level) only through such a process".
Pawar's remarks came close on the heels of the recent meeting his close associate and former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma had with Sonia Gandhi in which he apologised to her for whatever that had happened 10 years back on the issue of her foreign origin.
Gandhi was "gracious enough" and told Sangma that "past is past. Forget it".
Sangma's meeting with Gandhi had led to the belief that the process of merger of NCP with Congress has begun especially at a time when Pawar's party has not done that well in the recent Lok Sabha elections.
In reply to questions, Pawar conceded that the party has received setback in the Lok Sabha polls as it could secure only nine seats as against the expectation of around 15.
Acknowledging the vote percentage of the NCP in Maharashtra was 19.4 per cent as against 19.8 per cent of Congress, he said the fact is "we will have to work hard in coming days".
"We have got patience, There are ups and downs in political life. In 1980, 50 of my 56 MLAs in Maharashtra had deserted me, but from six MLAs, I had raised the strength to some 60 MLAs," said the Maratha strongman who has created a record of sorts by uninterruptedly winning election for Assembly or the Lok Sabha for over 40 years.
Noting that six of the nine MPs of the party were below 40 years of age, he said "to continue the work of developing new leadership, we will have to have our separate existence."