A day after the Congress targeted Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar for his statements on price rise in Delhi, state NCP leaders said such criticism will not be tolerated.
NCP ministers, including Home Minister R. R. Patil and Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, at a party conclave at Aurangabad on Saturday took an aggressive stance saying the party would not sit back if anyone pointed fingers at the Union Agriculture Minister.
“Our ministerial chairs are not as important as respect for our leader,” said Patil. “You [the Congress] cannot share power with us in the state and then criticise our leader so wantonly. We don’t do that and expect same respect.’’
Patel, who inaugurated the conclave, used the example of Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s coup in Mumbai on Friday. “He [Gandhi] took the challenge posed by the [Shiv] Sena and gave a fitting reply. We should do the same whether it’s a challenge posed by Sena, MNS [Maharashtra Navnirman Sena] or someone else,” said Patel. “We shouldn’t tolerate criticism of our leader by anyone.’’
At the Congress Working Committee meet in Delhi on Friday, Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Member of Parliament R.K. Dhawan and others attacked Pawar, without naming him, saying that his irresponsible statements had fuelled the price hike further.
Voices against Pawar reached a crescendo last month with some calling for a split in his portfolios of agriculture, food and civil supplies and consumer affairs.
Reacting to Patil’s statements, Congress spokesperson Hussain Dalwai said: “Two-three ministries have been clubbed together and this can have its consequences but nobody has held Pawar solely responsible. Patil is unnecessarily stretching the issue.’’
Political observers say that NCP has been on a back foot since its poor performance in the state and general elections but will soon pull up its socks.
“We will be more aggressive now. There has been a decline in party’s popularity when you compare it with that of the Congress and competitors like the MNS,’’ said a NCP minister requesting anonymity.