However, it generates excitement in the media

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s remark in response to a question in his Lok Sabha constituency, Solapur, on Saturday that he would be happy to see Union Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, whom he described as his “political guru”, become Prime Minister has barely caused a ripple in the Congress.

His comment, however, generated some excitement in the media as it comes amid reports that party vice-president Rahul Gandhi could shortly be nominated as the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate. Congress general secretary in charge of Maharashtra Mohan Prakash, asked to respond to Mr. Shinde’s comment, sounded more amused than agitated: “Mr. Shinde is capable of responding to this question.” Off the record, Congress functionaries said there must have been a context to what Mr. Shinde said, and that too much should not be read into his remark.

“At best,” said a senior party functionary, “it is a case of constituency-compulsion: Mr. Pawar is the tallest leader in Maharashtra and he must be paid obeisance.”

Mr. Shinde’s remark came at a function organised by the Lokmat newspaper group in Solapur when he was asked how he would respond if Mr Pawar became the Prime Minister. “I would be happy. I have said this many times from national platforms,” he said, adding, “Everyone has ambitions. Mr. Pawar has been trying for this since 1992 but he fell victim to politics and ended up becoming the Chief Minister of Maharashtra…Mr. Pawar is my political guru. I entered politics because of him.”

Close relationship

Congress sources, too, said Mr. Shinde had never hidden his close relationship with Mr. Pawar who had introduced him to politics when he was a police sub-inspector. In fact, when Mr. Shinde’s daughter contested elections, Mr. Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule even campaigned for her.

But, equally, these sources stressed Mr. Shinde was a Gandhi family loyalist and there was no hint of a brewing rebellion in his statement. Indeed, his remarks in Solapur came a day after he said in Delhi, “I’m a loyal soldier of the party, willing to serve it in any capacity, in the government or organisation.”

Meanwhile, the NCP reacted by saying that while Mr. Pawar was capable of being the Prime Minister, he was not in the race this time. “Mr. Pawar has made his position very clear. He is not in the race for Prime Minister. The party is very clear on this,” said Ms. Sule, MP from Baramati in Maharashtra.

Mr. Pawar has announced that he will not contest the Lok Sabha elections later this year: instead, he intends to take the Rajya Sabha route to Parliament.

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