Tells Manmohan that any delay in taking decision will be harmful

A day after Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko said that his party was not opposed to the creation of a separate state of Telangana, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar became the first of the Congress’ allies in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to back the idea.

Speaking informally to journalists at a lunch hosted by party colleague and Union Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Minister Praful Patel, Mr. Pawar said that he had mentioned this to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday, stressing that a “delay (in taking a decision) will not be helpful.” Pressed on the subject, he said there could be a meeting of UPA constituents soon on the issue, while indicating that now “it was just a question of the timing”.

Recalling that he had always supported a separate Telangana, he pointed out that seven years back he had addressed a rally in the region with Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao.

To a question on whether Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress would, in the years to come, play the role in Andhra that the NCP was playing in Maharashtra, and ally with the Congress, Mr Pawar said, “Jagan will be an important force: we have to accept that. But what relationship he will have with the Congress, I don’t know.”

Mr. Pawar was asked if his support for Telangana will have an impact on those who want to carve out a separate state of Vidarbha from Maharashtra. “I don’t think it will have any impact,” he answered, adding, “But if the people of Vidarbha want a separate state, I won’t stand in their way.”

On the recent elevation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress vice president, and whether the NCP would accept Mr Gandhi’s leadership of the UPA in 2014, Mr Pawar dodged a direct reply: “We don’t know who the Congress will project. Rahul is number two.”

On a personal note, Mr. Pawar said, “I will not contest another election, as I don’t want to come to Parliament anymore: I first became an MLA 46 years ago.” But he said he would continue to head the party. In answer to a question, he said the NCP would not merge its identity with the Congress: “The NCP rank and file want to maintain the party’s separate identity, while maintaining good relations with the Congress.”

To a range of questions on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, he expressed the view that the latter was over-rated and that his influence was largely limited to his own home state. He pointed out that the BJP would fare poorly in Karnataka and with Nitin Gadkari stepping down from the BJP presidency, he said that party would lose ground in Vidarbha — the region to which the BJP leader belongs.

Asked about the fate of the food security bill, he said, “When the granaries are full, why not feed the people? Any action from that angle will benefit the common man.” He, however, said that his only reservation was on the quantum of subsidy. On the much touted direct cash transfers, he expressed his doubts on whether it would work. “But if it works,” he said, “it will be very good.”

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