Amid reconciliation talks between the Congress and Sharad Pawar, the minister's party made it clear that it's upset about much more than his being overlooked for the second-most important position in the cabinet.
Mr Pawar's deputy, Praful Patel, refused to confirm or deny reports that both of them have sent letters of resignation to the Prime Minister. "The issue is not about resignations," he said. Mr Patel, who is Industries Minister, revealed that Mr Pawar wrote to the PM last evening, raising issues that he wants the government to consider urgently -he did not specify what they were, but said, "We are entering the last two years before the next general elections...we feel that to that effect, the government must also be more decisive, more committed to issues that are before the people of the country."
He blamed the Congress for misreporting the facts of the current rift between the two allies, accusing "some within the Congress of making unreasonable and unnecessary comments" to the media.
Mr Patel said that his party, the NCP, will meet on Monday to decide its next step. This morning, Congress president Sonia Gandhi invited Mr Pawar to her home. The Prime Minister is also likely to meet with the senior minister later today.
Mr Patel said that after receiving his letter on Thursday evening, the Prime Minister spoke to Mr Pawar on the phone and met him last night, hours after the two NCP ministers skipped a cabinet meeting to make their displeasure clear. Emphasising that their party has been a mature and responsible ally of the UPA, Mr Patel said that his party waited till after voting ended for President of India to send Mr Pawar's note to the PM. The UPA's candidate for President is Mr Mukherjee, whose election is more or less certain.
Sources in the NCP accuse the Congress of taking decisions unilaterally, violating the basic tenets of "coalition dharma." Last evening, a senior NCP leader said, "The Congress does not know how to run a coalition." In response, an option the Congress is considering includes the creation of committee that could handle the government when the PM is travelling -it would include Mr Pawar, Defence Minister AK Antony, and whoever the Congress picks as the Leader of the House, a post that was also held by Mr Mukherjee.
The Congress hopes that the inclusion of Mr Pawar in this new committee is likely to satisfy him that his seniority has not been compromised..
The NCP participates in the Congress-led coalition at the centre; the NCP also teams with the Congress to govern Maharashtra. The state will pick its next government in less than two years, so both parties are keen on a good run till then.
Sources in the NCP say that the party is tired of being overlooked in decision-making. Some projects with which Mr Pawar was involved have not been cleared by the government; his nominees for certain positions have been rejected. This and other allegations leveled by Mr Pawar's party will be discussed at a meeting this evening of the senior-most leaders of the Congress.
Mr Pawar has been upset with the fact that after Pranab Mukherjee resigned from the cabinet in June, Defence Minister AK Antony has been seated next to the Prime Minister at cabinet meetings, reserved for the second-most senior member of the government. Mr Pawar first took the coveted seat, but at the next meeting, the seating plan had been altered to place Mr Antony next to the PM. Mr Pawar's party says it should have been informed of the change. He has also reportedly been angry about not being included in the high-level cabinet committee on security. Sources in the NCP say that it's not about who is perceived as or treated as No. 2 in the cabinet, but about the Congress not sharing plans on this or larger issues. NCP sources say they were not consulted about the Congress' decision to make PJ Kurien the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
Sources in the NCP say that the party is tired of being treated like "a rubber stamp." That is why, they say, Mr Pawar and Mr Patel did not attend the UPA session called to announce Hamid Ansari as the coalition's candidate for vice-president (Mr Pawar, however, made it clear that his party supports Mr Ansari's nomination).
Mr Pawar was present at Sonia Gandhi's lunch, held on Wednesday for all MPs from the UPA a day ahead of voting for the President of India.
In Maharashtra, the Congress and NCP are looking for a fourth term in power. The state votes for its next government in 2014. Estranged cousins Raj and Uddhav Thackeray have begun taking steps towards a possible reconciliation. If their parties, the Shiv Sena and the MNS combine with the BJP, the incumbent coalition could have a real fight on its hands.