Pawar prods PM to speed up on Telangana

New Delhi, Jan. 31: Agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar today told the Prime Minister that delaying the creation of Telangana was not going to help, the first time a UPA ally has expressed concern on an issue that has tormented the government for long.

Pawar, who met Manmohan Singh during a cabinet meeting, told journalists: "I raised the matter with the Prime Minister today. The Congress is generally pro-Telangana but the question is that of timing… we want Telangana as early as possible. Delay is not helping."

The NCP has been supportive of Telangana for long but Pawar's direct intervention reflects the growing concern in the ruling combine over the UPA's prospects in the 2014 elections.

Andhra Pradesh has been the engine of UPA's power pursuit, giving it over 30 MPs in the elections in 2004 and again in 2009. The UPA allies are worried about the crashing graph of the Congress in this vital state that sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha.

Pawar, who was informally talking to reporters at a lunch hosted by his colleague Praful Patel, said he expected the Congress to remain the single largest party in the next election but with a lesser tally.

"Any party reaching (read winning) 170-180 (seats) will form the next government. I believe the Congress will manage that despite all this cynicism as the ground reality in the country is different from what appears from Delhi," he said.

But Pawar would not comment on the impact of Rahul Gandhi's elevation or Narendra Modi's growing clout on the 2014 results.

Responding to questions, he said: "Modi is getting publicity disproportionate to his worth. He would have lost Gujarat had the Congress played its cards well. Rahul I don't know as a leader, I can't comment on his capacity. But if the Congress thinks he can revive the Congress, it is good for the UPA."

Pawar said the BJP would suffer in Maharashtra because of Nitin Gadkari's exit and lose badly in Karnataka, where it has been hit by a rebellion, affecting its overall tally.

The NCP chief also declared that he would not be seen in the Rajya Sabha after 2014 because he planned to stay away from parliamentary politics. He has already announced his decision not to contest for the Lok Sabha any more.

But only a few days ago, his party had hinted at a plan to make him Prime Minister. Pawar wants to ensure the NCP significantly enhances its tally of nine seats to come in the reckoning and has "expressed his desire" to field all the senior NCP ministers in the Maharashtra government in the Lok Sabha election.

Pawar dropped subtle hints about his differences with Sonia Gandhi on the food security bill, saying: "Who will oppose if you want to give cheap grains to poor and BPL families?"

Sonia wants at least 75 per cent of the rural population to be covered under the Act. Pawar feels this will create an abnormal pressure on the exchequer.

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