Hours after casting their votes in the presidential election, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel skipped a Cabinet meeting in the evening amidst unconfirmed reports that they had offered to resign from the government and will not attend office on Friday in protest against the shabby manner in which the Congress has treated its allies, including their Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
A meeting of the NCP is scheduled for Friday to decide its future course of action.
“The Congress,” NDTV quoted senior NCP sources as saying, “does not know how to run a coalition government.” The NCP apparently waited to make its displeasure known as it did not wish to cast a shadow over the presidential election.
NCP spokesman D.P. Tripathi told journalists, “For the first time in eight years, Mr. Pawar and Mr. Praful Patel did not go to the Cabinet meeting.” Asked whether the pecking order was the issue, he said Mr. Pawar had never sought any position and the “issues [for skipping the meeting] were much higher.”
The signs that a Congress-NCP rift was brewing have been there: at the first Cabinet meeting after Pranab Mukherjee’s exit, Mr. Pawar was seated next to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but at the second meeting, it was Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who was seated next to Dr. Singh, suggesting that it was the latter who was number two. The NCP then skipped the meeting at which Hamid Ansari was declared the UPA’s vice-presidential candidate.
Congress sources, however, while agreeing that Mr. Pawar is not so concerned about being number two or seated next to Dr. Singh, say his eyes are on an impending Cabinet reshuffle. He wants his seniority to be acknowledged by Dr. Singh by giving him Home, Finance or Defence, they say.
There is a talk that Home Minister P. Chidambaram may move to the Finance Ministry and his job may be taken over by Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, a man who was once Mr. Pawar’s protégé in Maharashtra.