NCP keeps Congress guessing on quit plans

New Delhi: Sulking ally NCP today kept the Congress guessing on its pullout plans from the government but made it clear that it will not rock the UPA boat and continue its support "till the end".

The NCP Working Committee met here to discuss its options in the wake of party chief Sharad Pawar`s communication to the Congress leadership last week expressing a desire to quit the government along with another minister Praful Patel on issues like better functioning of the coalition.

At the end of the hour-long deliberations, Patel said the discussions in the party would continue on issues like continuing in the government and a final decision would be taken "no later than" Wednesday.

He said the party has decided to further consult leaders in Maharashtra, where NCP is a major partner in the Congress-led coalition government, and have issues over the functioning of the government there. The state NCP leaders could not be in Delhi due to the ongoing session of the Assembly.

"As far as the UPA is concerned, we have made it clear we are part of the UPA and will continue to support the government and the UPA till the very end," Patel said to a volley of questions on whether the party still continued to be part of the government.

On Thursday after polling in the President`s election, Pawar sent a missive to the Prime Minister wanting to quit the government. The party said it had a number of issues over the way the UPA government functioned and denied that No 2 status for Pawar in the Cabinet was behind the current standoff. Patel said that the party has decided to keep away from all the government functions till the issue is resolved.

Pawar and Patel would not not attend the farewell dinner for outgoing President Pratibha Patil hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tonight. On party colleague and Union Minister of State Agatha Sangma, against whom the NCP was said to have been mulling action on the issue of campaign for her father P A Sangma, Patel said she had met Pawar and told him that she would fully follow the party line.

Pawar had written to Singh and Gandhi last week conveying his decision to pull out of the government and support it from outside in protest against the way the party was treated by Congress. Patel continued his attack on sections within the Congress leadership for fuelling speculation that the NCP was keen to destabilise the Maharashtra government.

"The NCP is as committed as the Congress to provide good government and clean government in Maharashta. Sections of the Congress are spreading canards to malign the NCP," he said and appealed to the Congress leadership to "pull up" such persons.

Patel said he concurred with Defence Minister A K Antony that all members in the Union Cabinet were equal and that there was no senior or junior cabinet minister. "Mr Pawar is not seeking the chair next to the Prime Minister. Current standoff is not a ploy to seek anything," Patel said.