“Whether it is Pranab Mukherjee or Hamid Ansari, we will support whoever is the unanimous choice”
The United Progressive Alliance needs the support of Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to win the presidential race, Union Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar told reporters here on Saturday. He was talking on the sidelines of a symposium at the Maharashtra legislature.
Stating that the presidential contest should not be made into an “ego issue”, Mr. Pawar said: “If we want to win, we certainly need West Bengal and Mulayam [Singh's] support.”
Mr. Pawar denied that he had voiced his support for a “non-political” candidate. “I did not say non-political. I said [I will support] where there is a consensus. Whether it is Pranab Mukherjee or [Vice President] Hamid Ansari, we will support whoever is the unanimous choice. The candidate does not have to be from the NCP either.”
During his talks with the Congress High Command, he called for building a majority before deciding on the names.
“When the Congress discussed [the matter] with me, I told them don't talk about the names. The UPA is short of 2.20 lakh votes and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) needs 3.80 lakh votes. First let us get the majority and then decide the names,” Mr. Pawar said.
The NCP leader dwelt on his cordial equation with the Congress at the Centre, saying he “never had any differences with the Manmohan Singh government.” Delivering a lecture at the State legislature, he said: “Whatever I have asked for, even lifting the ban on sugar, milk powder, onion or cotton export, has been approved.” He said he had a “love-hate” relationship with the Congress at the Centre.
The situation in the State, however, was not as easy, he hinted. He rued the current state of polity in Maharashtra, where regional affiliations overrode interests of the State at large.
“Regional disputes will not keep Maharashtra united,” he said. He cited the example of Gujarat, where Chief Minister Narendra Modi faces strong opposition from the Congress, but they “come together in support of development projects.”
Reacting to doubts over coalition governments, Mr. Pawar said: “Coalition governments are here to stay. Around 78 per cent of democracies, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, France, are run by coalitions. Only the United States has a single party government. Running a coalition government is an art. You have to look at coalitions with a broad outlook.”
Mr. Pawar voiced strong opposition to the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, which is before a parliamentary standing committee.
“The provisions of the Bill stipulate giving five times the value of the land, returning 20 per cent of the developed land and seeking consent from 70 per cent of land owners. No development will take place at this rate. No one will be able to [procure] 70-per-cent consent.”
Pointing to the non-feasibility of the provisions, he said if the Bill provisions are applied to the proposed Navi Mumbai airport project, land owners will have to be given 20 crore per acre. Moreover, 20 per cent of the developed land, near to the airport, would have to be returned. That land would be prime property.
Mr. Pawar called for pressure on agriculture to be reduced. “I have already opined that people should move away from agriculture. It is not enough to support Indian households. It is not possible to run a 5-member household on the basis of agriculture alone. If another member is bringing home some income then the burden is reduced. In the U.S., only seven per cent are engaged in agriculture. In Germany it's only three per cent.”
A grim picture
Mr. Pawar painted a grim picture of Maharashtra faring badly in agriculture production. The financial capital of Mumbai was in a state of neglect. “The time has come to take care of Maharashtra,” he said.
The State's irrigation coverage was only 17 per cent as against 40 per cent of national average. “Bundelkhand and Bihar have no assured water supply, but they fair better in dry land farming.”
In the context of the rising costs of dams, he said, the State government was in the habit of “pleasing everyone” while irrigation projects dragged on without and end resulting in cost escalation. In addition, canal ways had not been developed. He backed the idea of a white paper on irrigation.
He also criticised the policy of giving compensation for cross loss. “We can provide water, seeds and facilities to improve agricultural productivity, but to compensate for crop losses, that's a new practice,” he said.
Mr. Pawar said Maharashtra could not depend on other sates to provide for its foodgrain needs. The State's rice, wheat and jowar production was 1,776, 1,750 and 1,000 kilogramme per hectare as against the national averages of 2,240, 3,300 and 850 kilogramme per hectare.
Other states like Orissa, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh were contribution to agriculture production in a major way.
Mr. Pawar called upon the legislators to pay attention to Mumbai.