Nationalist Congress Party on Thursday dismissed speculation that its president Sharad Pawar will replace Congress chief Sonia Gandhi as the head of the United Progressive Alliance, PTI reported. The NCP accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of fuelling rumours to shift the focus from more pressing matters like the ongoing farmers’ protests.
“The Nationalist Congress Party would like to clarify that there is no discussion within UPA partners regarding any such proposal,” NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase said. “The reports appearing in the media seems to be have planted by vested interests to divert the attention from the ongoing farmers’ agitation.”
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar, too, said he was not aware of any such development.
“Pawar Saheb has excellent relations with leaders across parties, whether he is in power or Opposition,” Ajit Pawar told reporters, according to India Today. “Even now, he has taken the lead in resolving the farmers’ crisis. I have not heard of the news that Pawar Saheb may head UPA.”
Speculations about Sharad Pawar being asked to take over as the head of the UPA come at a time when the Congress is gearing up for an organisational overhaul, according to The Hindu. The party is going ahead with the process of conducting internal elections so that a full-time president can take over interim chief Sonia Gandhi, the newspaper reported.
Gandhi is reportedly going to step down once the party’s Central Election Authority determines a timeline for organisational elections and the next All India Congress Committee session. While the elections schedule may be ready as early as this month, the AICC session is unlikely before January or the end of February.
This could be the direct result of the pressure exerted by 23 senior leaders, who wrote to Gandhi in early August, on the fault lines within the party and the need for “a full time and visible” party chief. Following this, Gandhi had reportedly offered to resign, which led to an overwhelming number of Congress leaders rallying behind her, who asserted she would continue to lead the party.
“To the best of my knowledge, Sonia ji continues to be the UPA chairperson and there is no move to replace her,” Tariq Anwar, a member of the Congress Working Committee, told The Hindu. “The Congress is a bigger party and naturally, president of the Congress will head the UPA.”
Anwar, a former founding member of the NCP, said “such stories are also planted to divert attention from issues like the ongoing farmers’ protests”.
Shiv Sena pitches for Sharad Pawar
The Shiv Sena, which is an ally of both the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra, supported the suggestion of Sharad Pawar taking UPA. Party spokesperson Sanjay Raut said such a move will be beneficial for the alliance, according to India Today.
“The Congress has limited strength,” Raut told the channel. “Regional and national parties consider Sharad Pawar their leader. I don’t see any other leader of this stature. The Opposition needs strong leadership that can take along regional parties. I see only Sharad Pawar in that role.”
The Congress should show maturity and accept Sharad Pawar’s leadership, Raut said. “There is a need to unite the Opposition,” he added. “This will be possible only when there is consensus leadership.”
Raut, however, added that while he thought Sharad Pawar is capable of a bigger national role, the news of him replacing Gandhi was speculative, according to PTI. “Politics is unpredictable,” he said. “You never know what will happen next.”