Either by design or default, the run-up to the seat-sharing negotiations between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections seems to be following the trajectory of the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance talks before the Lok Sabha elections.

And, the common feature is Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Satyavrat Chaturvedi. In an action-replay of the run-up to the breakdown of the Congress-SP alliance when Mr. Chaturvedi indulged in a war of words with Amar Singh almost on a daily basis till he was directed to keep quiet, the CWC member launched a broadside against NCP president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday.

Though party leaders insist the similarity is purely coincidental, the Congress is officially yet to take a final view on whether or not to continue with its decade-old alliance with the NCP, which, for its part, has been saying that splitting at this juncture would be suicidal.

The only difference is that this time round, the Congress censure came early with media department chairman Janardan Dwivedi saying that all Congress leaders and workers had been advised not to speak out of turn in public or through the media. “If they have certain views on any subject, they should raise them on appropriate party fora.”

Whether Mr. Chaturvedi had been specifically told to hold his fire, Mr. Dwivedi said: “I have reason to believe that the party’s view has been communicated to him.”

Mr. Chaturvedi has accused Mr. Pawar of misleading farmers on drought and misrepresenting facts about the availability of sugar in the country. The Minister, he said, denied the possibility of a drought till very recently by which time farmers — believing his statements and the India Meteorological Department’s monsoon predictions — had invested and lost money in sowing crops.

And, referring to a question he had put to Mr. Pawar during question hour on why the Minimum Support Price had not been raised for sugarcane, the senior Congressman said the Minister had then assured him that the country had adequate stocks in sugar. “Now, he says, we have to import sugar. Where has the stock disappeared?”

Meanwhile, Mr. Dwivedi denied reports of Congress president Sonia Gandhi writing a letter to Mr. Pawar about sugar shortage. “The only letter she has written on drought and price rise is to the Prime Minister and that was before the CWC meeting on August 19.”

The existence of this letter was also denied by NCP spokesman D.P. Tripathi who issued the denial after speaking to Mr. Pawar.


As to what the Congress had to say about spiralling prices, Mr. Dwivedi said the party had spoken through the CWC resolution. And, if there was any need to add to the CWC resolution, then it would be done officially, he said, refusing to comment on the contradictions in the positions taken by Mr. Pawar about the sugar situation.