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Rahul pays visit to Pawar turf

india Updated: Mar 04, 2009 01:20 IST
Satyajit Joshi

Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi paid a surprise visit to Vasantdada Sugar Institute at Manjari in Pune district, over 30 km away from Pune.

The sugar institute is controlled by Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar. The heir apparent of the Gandhi family was accompanied by two other Congress generation next leaders, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot, to learn more about the sugar industry, which is also important in Uttar Pradesh.

The NCP chief Pawar meeting with Gandhi and taking him on a tour of the sugar institute have given rise to political speculations that the latter was stepping in to solve the deadlock over seat sharing. The NCP wants to contest 24 seats and the Congress is not ready to give with 21.

Congress-NCP sources said the meeting was scheduled and Pawar was in the know of Gandhi’s tour.

“It was a non-political meeting and nothing should be concluded from this visit. He (Gandhi) wanted to understand the sugar sector so he came to interact with the experts here,” said Pune Congress president Abhay Chhajed.

Gandhi did not address the press but held a small meeting of Congress workers at the office of Pune Member of Parliament Suresh Kalmadi where he urged workers to work together to ensure victory for the party and made it clear that the party’s prime ministerial candidate would be Manmohan Singh.

Gandhi’s declaration of Singh as the only PM for UPA is now being seen as an answer to all the speculation and talks about other prime ministerial candidates including Pawar. His interest in sugar sector is also significant as the Maharashtra politics is controlled by a strong lobby of sugar cooperative factories. The sector is dominated by NCP and Congress leaders.

Pawar left for Mumbai in a helicopter at 1.30 pm, even as Rahul Gandhi stayed back and discussed issues of the sugar industry with the institute officials, scientists and agriculture minister of the state Balasaheb Thorat. He also interacted with students here and had a lunch of jowar bhakri, chicken, sol-kadhi and rice — a popular Maharashtrian meal — in the institute.

The local Congress leaders were surprised by Rahul’s unexpected visit as they were informed of it only a few hours before his arrival. Later, Gandhi went to the historic Congress Bhavan, where he garlanded statutes of Mahtma Gandhi and Yeshvantrao Chavan before leaving for Mumbai.