Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar came in for attack over price rise at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Friday.
Vilasrao Deshmukh, R.K. Dhawan and Satyavrat Chaturvedi led the attack on Pawar without naming him.
Deshmukh referred to the minister’s irresponsible statements that further fuelled price rise — a point flagged also by Chaturvedi. Alluding to Pawar’s mention of collective responsibility, Dhawan wondered why the Prime Minister’s name was being dragged into the issue when the tradition is to keep him above controversies.
Other members wanted the agriculture ministry to work more responsibly. No one, however, called for splitting Pawar’s portfolios of agriculture, food distribution and consumer affairs.
Coming on the eve of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s interaction with chief ministers on Saturday, the over two-hour long CWC — chaired Congress president Sonia Gandhi and attended by Singh — registered its concern over price rise, with members urging chief ministers to strengthen the PDS, check hoarding and black-marketing.
The chief ministers of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam hit out at the Food Corporation of India for not supplying foodgrains in time. Dr Karan Singh called for stricter laws to deal with hoarders.
Gandhi set the tone of the meeting by voicing concern on the issue on which 18 members later spoke. Singh assured them of an improvement in the situation shortly. But neither he nor Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee reportedly spelt out any steps to control inflation.
The CWC had a five point agenda — price rise, Telangana, organizational polls, the upcoming budget and the celebrations of the party’s 125th anniversary.
With the Union Budget round the corner, the CWC asked the UPA to focus on the aam aadmi.
Defence Minister and Maharashtra-in-charge A.K. Antony went beyond the agenda when he flagged the “serious” situation in Maharashtra that posed a threat to national unity.
“We have to handle it carefully,” he said, his concern echoed by some others who called for dealing sternly with disruptive forces (Shiv Sena and the MNS).
Digvijay Singh maintained it was high time to resolve the Telangana statehood issue. Home Minister P. Chidambaram spoke of the steps taken by the government to restore normalcy in Andhra Pradesh.