Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar hardly ever drew praise for the way he ran the agriculture ministry. But after Thursday’s protests over sugar prices, his suitability for the ministry is being questioned.
“Pawar has been heading the agriculture ministry for so long but has rarely been praised for efficiency,” said political commentator Surendra Jondhale. “He has been in the dock whenever he has tried his hand at [solving an] agrarian crisis.”
The Maratha strongman and chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has eight Members of Parliament in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, has become a cause for embarrassment for the Congress-led UPA after Thursday’s agitation in the capital.
The government sidelined Pawar and projected its ‘future face’ Rahul Gandhi as the one who successfully resolved the crisis. Jondhale said that UPA chief Sonia Gandhi is likely to do a rethink on Pawar’s ability as agriculture minister. Pawar’s decisions on exporting and importing essential commodities also drew criticism.
“Pawar’s agenda gives impression that he is for protecting the interests of the rich peasants who believe in making money through cash crop farming and sugar cooperatives,” said Jondhale.
A Delhi-based Congress minister, who did not want to be named, said that the party was unhappy with Pawar’s arm-twisting tactics and was waiting for a chance to clip his wings. “Pawar should know that the Congress leadership was magnanimous in giving him ministries like agriculture and food and civil supplies again,” he said.
A senior Congress leader, who was once close to Pawar, said opposition from the Left and Samajwadi Party that were so far supportive of Pawar could mean a new twist to the plot.
Sugar industry expert and state Congress spokesperson Kanhaiyalal Gidwani said he has often written to Pawar about the sugar crisis but in vain. “I wonder how Pawar, who himself is a sugar industry expert, can allow this crisis to happen. His department has failed miserably in its assessment and projection,” Gidwani said.
Gidwani said sugar production in India has dropped by 50 per cent in the past two years. “To mitigate the gap, we need to import sugar for next three years,” he said.