NATIONAL

Pawar's message to fence-sitters

MUMBAI, AUG. 1. The Union Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party chief, Sharad Pawar, who cut short his week-long rest in Himachal Pradesh and rushed here today, sensing his party getting increasingly divided between Marathas and non-Marathas, gave a stern message to the fence-sitters that he did not care if they left the NCP. Backward caste leaders feel that they were marginalised by Marathas.

Mr. Pawar told a convention of party workers of Mumbai district that those who wished to leave the party were welcome to do so and wished them luck. His reference was to the former Deputy Chief Minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, whom he had made to quit the Government before the last Lok Sabha elections after the police questioned him about the Telgi stamp scam.

Sidelined

Mr. Bhujbal had been indicating, of late, his displeasure for having been sidelined in the party and was blaming other leaders in the NCP from Mr. Pawar's community. He is reportedly in touch with BSP and Congress leaders. It was anticipated that he would meet Mr. Pawar and both would try to iron out the differences within the party.

But Mr. Bhujbal who was in Pune yesterday preferred to go to Nashik and Pachora instead of returning to Mumbai. He told a function in Pune that in the coming Assembly election, the people should vote for the right candidate and right party. He said he would not make any political statement since the occasion did not call for it but said that he would be allowed to stay happily in the party for the time being.

According to the party convention programme, Mr. Bhujbal was to attend it. Another disgruntled leader and former Maharashtra Minister, Laxmanrao Dhobale, announced in Pune yesterday that he was quitting the party. He said it was better to quit the party if it felt that he had become a burden.

Mr. Dhobale had been holding that his defeat in the Osmanabad Lok Sabha constituency by a slender margin was due to the activities of the Deputy Chief Minister, Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, the successor of Mr. Bhujbal.

Mr. Dhobale had said he was not alone and besides Mr. Bhujbal, the Tribal Welfare Minister, Madhukar Pichad, and the NCP spokesman, Vasant Chavan — all from backward communities — were not happy in the party.

Mr. Pawar told the convention in Mumbai that he had formed the Government in 1980 with the support of 56 legislators. Of them 51 who had left him thereafter were not seen in the Assembly again. This was a warning to those who had quit or were about to quit.

The Maharashtra NCP president and State Home Minister, R.R. Patil, told reporters that he did not think that Mr. Bhujbal would quit the party and was confident that everything would be clear in the next four days. His absence at today's convention should not be misinterpreted. But he reminded the dissidents that they should not forget the contribution of the party in their successes.

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