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FM, Pawar to be attacked at Cong CMs' conclave

The Congress CM's conclave at Nainital next week will focus on agrarian crisis and the internal security situation.

india Updated: Sep 17, 2006 09:51 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India

Three senior Union Ministers, P Chidambaram, Sharad Pawar and Shivraj Patil, are likely to come under attack at the Congress chief ministers' conclave at Nainital next week over the agrarian crisis and the internal security situation.

The two-day meet from September 23, to be presided over by Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and some senior ministers by her side, is expected to reflect on problems confronting the agricultural sector in the backdrop of a spate of suicides by bankrupt farmers in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.

While Finance Minister Chidambaram has faced flak from a section of the Congress Working Committee and some party chief ministers two months ago on the issue of price rise, Pawar, who holds the agriculture portfolio, has been criticised over wheat imports and a spurt in prices of essential commodities.

The conclave, which will focus on agriculture and deal with internal security, is being held at a time when Home Minister Shivraj Patil is being targeted by a section of the party as well as the opposition in the wake of bomb attacks in Mumbai and Malegaon.

Gandhi, who is also UPA chairperson, has time and again expressed concern at the rising prices and the terror threat.

Chief Ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh of Maharashtra and YS Rajashekhara Reddy of Andhra Pradesh will have to face a lot of questions on the issue of suicides by farmers.

A redeeming feature for Reddy is that the suicides in his state have drastically come down. The situation in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region has, however, seen no let up despite the Prime Minister's visit and the announcement of an economic package to bail out farmers.

Party sources said besides Chidambaram and Patil, the conclave is also expected to be attended by Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

While Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been invited for the meet, his participation appears uncertain as he is leading the Indian delegation to the UN General Assembly.

Though the meet will focus on agriculture, it will not have the Agriculture Minister as an invitee as Pawar is in the NCP.

Interestingly, the NCP is currently holding its National Convention at Dehradun that is expected to be used by the Maratha strongman to neutralise any attack, veiled or direct, on his performance as the Agriculture Minister.

Pawar has been insisting that the Agriculture Ministry under him has moved heaven and earth to give a fair deal to farmers.

Congress sources say the Finance Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry have been not on the best of terms on several issues concerning the farm sector.

The conclave of chief ministers, the second since the Congress came to power at the Centre, is expected to provide an opportunity to the leadership for a mid-term review as the government is almost half way through its term.

It also assumes significance as it is coming at a time when Assembly elections are round the corner in four states, including the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh where the Congress has been a fringe player for long.

In Punjab, the party is facing an uphill task to retain power while in Uttaranchal, where the meet is being held, the BJP is increasingly becoming upbeat.

With the states hard pressed for funds, the meet could witness pleas for writing off bad debts of cooperative banks to the tune of Rs 8,000 crore to help farmers in the wake of the agrarian crisis in the country.

Party sources said streamlining the credit system for agriculture has to be a top priority.

They said cooperative banks, which mainly supply credit to farmers, were in itself in the doldrums in view of the non-performing assets totalling about Rs 8,000 crore.

For want of credit from cooperative banks, farmers are at times forced to approach private money-lenders who charge exhorbitant interest. Caught in this vicious circle, farmers finds themselves pushed to a corner and some of them finally decide to take the extreme step, they said.

It is still unclear whether agricultural experts have been invited to the meet.

First Published: Sep 17, 2006 09:36 IST