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We'll not accept Sonia, Priyanka as PM: Pawar

New Delhi Nov. 21. Asserting that his party will not accept the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, as Prime Minister after the next general elections, the Nationalist Congress Party president, Sharad Pawar, has said the main Opposition party should change its leader to keep the BJP out of power.

``Difficult...We will not accept her as Prime Minister. The Congress has to change its leader,'' Mr. Pawar said in an interview to the journalist, Karan Thapar, on BBC World's HardTalk India programme.

Asked if he would support a Government led by Ms. Gandhi in case of a hung Lok Sabha and if this would be the best way of keeping the BJP out, Mr. Pawar said: ``the Congress should think if they are serious about keeping the BJP out. It should not insist on the leader. My suggestion is that the Congress should keep the BJP out and elect any other person to lead.''

He also ruled out accepting Priyanka Gandhi as a possible Prime Minister. ``She is not a Member of Parliament... She has not proved her mettle and is not accepted by the country.''

However, he said that his party would not have any problem aligning with the Congress, either at the state-level or even at the national-level, provided it did not insist on ``imposing its leader."

``For state matters, no problem. In Delhi, if there is no discussion and no insistence about the leadership, no problem.'' ``The Congress has no right to thrust its leader on us and should not expect others to accept its leader.''

The NCP chief, who parted ways with the Congress on the issue of Ms. Gandhi's foreign origin, said he had no problem with the Nehru-Gandhi family. ``I had worked in the party when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were Prime Ministers.'' Mr. Pawar said he had a ``very good'' relationship with many Congressmen. ``I cannot disclose their names because that will put them in danger and seal their fate. That is why I cannot disclose their names.''

The NCP leader said his disagreement with the Congress was not restricted to the leadership issue but extended to economic policies too. Differences with the Congress over issues and policies had grown considerably since he was expelled from the party in 1999, he added.

``There are a number of factors. I disagree with the approach of how the Congress is run and how the country is run.''

On the shift in the Congress position on economic liberalisation, Mr. Pawar said: ``Basically, in the last two, three years, the Congress is changing and has forgotten a number of decisions taken by it. This new path of economic liberalisation has been propagated and brought to the country by the Congress. We have decided to support this concept of opening the economy. But now the same Congress has taken a different stand. It passed a different resolution.''

He also dismissed suggestions that he got Cabinet status under the NDA Government as vice-chairman of the Crisis Management Committee because of his closeness to the BJP.

Mr. Pawar, who was the Leader of the Opposition in April 1999 when the Vajpayee Government fell, said it was ``normal parliamentary practice'' for the Leader of the Opposition to be invited to form the Government. He said, Ms. Gandhi had not consulted him as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha or his counterpart in the Rajya Sabha before staking claim to form the Government after the fall of the Vajpayee Government. Soon after the Vajpayee Government fell he did try to form an alternative government.

``I tried to secure the support of the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Samajwadi Janata Party chief, Chandra Shekhar, for the Congress, though not for Ms. Gandhi.''

The NCP leader replied in the affirmative when asked if he was seriously thinking of supplanting Ms. Gandhi and becoming the Prime Minister as he was the Leader of the Opposition.

He said, Ms. Gandhi had ``continuously stressed'' that she was not a candidate for the Prime Minister. She was the party president but not a member of either House.

However, Mr. Pawar said without discussing with him or his counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Ms. Gandhi met the President and staked claim to form the Government.

Asked if he would try to become the Prime Minister in case of a hung Parliament after the next elections, he said: ``I am not a fool. I am fully aware that unless and until there is tremendous strength in Parliament nobody will respect me. Today I am not in such a position. I know the ground level situation. Today I should not expect such a high post unless I get substantial support in Parliament.''

``If I got the support... if I got the strength and if I got the opportunity, I am confident that I will be able to deliver the goods.''

Mr. Pawar said that he would not be disappointed if he never became a Prime Minister. ``The highest office in the country is not the only thing.''

Asked if he would be a satisfied man even if he does not become a Prime Minister, the NCP chief said ``absolutely.''


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