The ruling United Progressive Alliance is “vulnerable” after the exit of the DMK and elections are around the corner, one of its key remaining allies, Nationalist Congress Party head Sharad Pawar said on Saturday.
Pawar, a political heavyweight and union agriculture minister, told a press conference in Thane near Mumbai that UPA president Sonia Gandhi should call for a meeting of coalition partners at the earliest to discuss poll strategy.
“She too wants to have such a meeting,” he said, adding that he did not expect elections to be held immediately.
General elections are slated for 2014 but the UPA’s grip on power has become more tenuous after the exit of southern ally DMK over the issue of Tamil deaths in Sri Lanka, and it depends for its survival on outside support from the mercurial Mayawati and Mulayam Singh.
Mulayam, whose Samajwadi Party has 22 MPs, has asked his partymen to gear up for a mid-term poll, but he has a reputation for brinkmanship.
Pawar’s comments are significant because he is actually part of the government.
The NCP has 9 lawmakers in the Lok Sabha and has an alliance with Congress in Maharashtra, a politically key state.
The Congress, however, tried to downplay Pawar’s predictions about early elections. “We can only say that as per our assessment, elections will be held in 2014, as per the schedule,” party spokesperson Rashid Alvi told HT.
But he added that due weight would be given to Pawar's suggestion for a meeting.
“Pawar is a very senior leader and respected ally. If he has suggested Congress president Sonia Gandhi call for a meeting, it will be definitely considered. His suggestions, or issues he wants to raise in the meeting, they will also be given due importance,” said Alvi.
Pawar said that the UPA partners other than the Congress were not in a position to decide on a prime ministerial candidate for the alliance. Many Congressmen want to project vice-president Rahul Gandhi as the prime minister-in-waiting if the UPA returns to power.
“We (NCP) and National Conference will honour the Congress’ decision because it is major partner in a now-shrunk alliance,” Pawar said.