New Delhi: The NCP kept the Congress guessing on quitting the Union cabinet as party chief Sharad Pawar and party leader Praful Patel skipped the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday evening. Although, the sulking ally had made it clear that it will not rock the UPA boat and continue its support "till the end". At stake is the NCP's demand to remove Prithviraj Chavan as Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
Pawar was not among the ministers present at the PM's dinner on Monday night for outgoing president, Pratibha Patil.
But through the day, there were enough indications that Pawar was ready for the eventual possibility of pulling out of UPA government and supporting from outside. In a symbolic move, Pawar drove personally to President elect Pranab Mukherjee's house.
An NCP meeting was held on Monday and the party deferred its decision on future ties with the UPA for by 48 hours. The NCP Working Committee met to discuss its options in the wake of party chief Sharad Pawar's communication to the Congress leadership last week expressing a desire to quit the government along with another minister Praful Patel on issues like better functioning of the coalition.
At the end of the hour-long deliberations, Patel said the discussions in the party would continue on issues like continuing in the government and a final decision would be taken "no later than" Wednesday.
He said the party has decided to further consult leaders in Maharashtra, where NCP is a major partner in the Congress-led coalition government, and have issues over the functioning of the government there. The state NCP leaders could not be in Delhi due to the ongoing session of the Assembly.
"As far as the UPA is concerned, we have made it clear we are part of the UPA and will continue to support the government and the UPA till the very end," Patel said to a volley of questions on whether the party still continued to be part of the government.
On Thursday after polling in the President's election, Pawar sent a missive to the Prime Minister wanting to quit the government.
The party said it had a number of issues over the way the UPA government functioned and denied that number 2 status for Pawar in the Cabinet was behind the current standoff.
But the real battle between the Congress and NCP is being fought in Maharashtra and not really Delhi. The relations between the two coalition partners deteriorated after Chavan became Maharasthra Chief Minister. Chavan has promised a white paper on scams in irrigation projects in state, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who is also Sharad Pawar's nephew was irrigation minister for many years.
Sunil Tatkare the present irrigation minister from the NCP has been under the scanner as well.
The NCP holds the Congress responsible for RBI dissolving board of Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank where many NCP members were on board.
That is why Pawar wants Chavan to be sacked. But so far the Congress is unwilling to accomodate this demand.