Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar is happy "as a party" having laid to rest the issue of Congress president Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, over which the Maharashtra strongman broke away from his parent party.
Pawar on Monday parried questions about his opposition to Sonia Gandhi as India's prime minister on the grounds of her foreign origin, by pointing out her assertion that she was not interested in occupying that post.
"The question (about NCP opposing or supporting Sonia's candidature for premiership) doesn't arise as she has declared she won't ever take the office," Pawar said, answering a query at a meet-the-press programme organised by the Nagpur Union of Working Journalists (NUWJ).
The issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, over which Pawar broke away from the Congress and formed his own Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) before the 1999 general elections, threatened to erupt again on Sunday when the NCP chief's colleague and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel reportedly told a TV news channel that the party would support her or her son Rahul as prime minister if the Congress were to elect either for the post.
Pawar clarified that Patel didn't quite say what was attributed to him. "What he said was that choosing whoever it likes as its parliamentary party leader was the prerogative of the Congress, and if the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) were to win majority in the next general elections with the Congress as the largest party, the NCP - as a UPA constituent - will naturally support that person", Pawar said.
"But since Sonia Gandhi has declared she is not interested in the post, the issue doesn't arise now", he added.
To a question whether the NCP has lost the purpose of its existence with the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin having been laid to rest and would it, therefore, merge back with the Congress, Pawar, pointing to his party colleagues flanking him, said: "We are very happy as a party of our own".
The union agriculture minister said it would be appropriate for the NCP to fight the next general election as an ally of the Congress and other UPA constituents, but hastened to add that everything depended on what the other coalition partners say.
Pawar discounted the possibility of the 'third front', if it could be cobbled up, coming to power. Leaving out major parties like the Congress and its allies on the one hand and the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies on the other, the third front will not get anywhere near the numbers needed to win power, he pointed out.
He also dismissed the talk of his supposed prime ministerial aspirations as he too didn't have the numbers and, more pertinently, as he has already declared he was not contesting the next Lok Sabha elections.
"After winning several legislative and parliamentary elections in the last 43 years, I won't like to ask for votes for myself yet again," the NCP chief said.