A day after Nationalist Congress Party president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar met Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray — purportedly to ensure the safety of Australian cricketers on the IPL teams — the Congress said the issue of food inflation fell squarely within the realm of his Ministry.
This is the first time the Congress has so clearly fixed the responsibility for the spiralling prices on Mr. Pawar. As recently as Friday — when Mr. Pawar came in for veiled attack within the Congress Working Committee (CWC) for not addressing the price rise issue — the Congress was careful to insist that no Minister was singled out for criticism.
However on Monday, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari was categorical in drawing a distinction between collective responsibility of the government on the one hand and the role of the person in charge of the Food Ministry. “Yes, we believe in collective responsibility but there is also differentiated responsibility and food inflation falls squarely within the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.”
While denying that the CWC indulged in “Pawar-bashing” – maintaining that this was not Congress culture – Mr. Tewari said: “The Congress is well within its right to reflect the concern of people on rising prices.”
However, on Mr. Pawar’s meeting with Mr. Thackeray, the Congress maintained that the Minister went to ‘Matoshree’ (Mr. Thackeray’s residence) in his private capacity and not as a representative of the government.
Refusing to subscribe to the analysis that this meeting had caused the Congress great embarrassment, Mr. Tewari said that as far as his party was concerned, the position was clearly spelt out by AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi with his visit to Mumbai on Friday last.
Though Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, earlier in the day, expressed disappointment at Mr. Pawar approaching Mr. Thackeray, the Congress chose to steer clear of the issue; insisting that all related questions be put to the NCP leader. Mr. Chavan was of the view that the State government was competent enough to guarantee protection to the matches and there was no need to seek the permission of any “extra-constitutional authority.”
Other Congress leaders quipped that by approaching the Shiv Sena leader, Mr. Pawar had undermined his own Minister as the Home Ministry in Maharashtra is with NCP’s R.R. Patil. “This is a vote of no confidence in his own Minister!”