Sending alarm bells ringing in the Third Front, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar failed to turn up at a joint BJD-Left-NCP rally in Bhubaneswar, orrissa on Friday.
Attributing his absence to a ‘technical snag’ in the aircraft he was to fly, Pawar told the meeting over the pone that he wished to attend the joint rally.
“I would have liked to address the rally but could not because of a technical snag in the aircraft,” Pawar.
Claims notwithstanding, political pundits say the absence may have been brought on by the Congress’ expressed displeasure over Pawar’s plans to join the rally.
With the Third Front leaving no stone unturned to establish credibility, amid speculations, CPI national secretary D Raja informed the gathering that Pawar would address them over phone.
Subsequently, NCP state president Prasanta Nanda held a cellphone to the microphone and Pawar was heard saying that his absence was due to a problem in the aircraft, scheduled to fly him.
Earlier, NCP general secretary and chief spokesperson D P Tripathy said, “Efforts to arrange another plane was not successful.”
Attempting to quell speculations, Tripathy said he was present at the joint rally as an NCP representative.
Tripathy said Pawar would now visit Bhubaneswar either on April 7 or 8 depending on BJD chief and Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s availability.
Earlier Sharad Pawar had said that he would attend the rally but maintained that his party was not with the Third Front.
Pawar over the last fortnight has emerged a key Congress ally, with his NCP inking pre-poll deals with the grand old party in Goa and Maharashtra and still in negotiations for seat sharing in Gujarat.
Despite his links with the Congress, Pawar, who happens to be one of the many aspiring prime ministers in the country, has kept his options open and his cards closed, a ploy that he is likely to continue with until after results for the general elections are declared.
“The NCP-Congress alliance is still on. This is not a Third Front rally but a BJD rally,” Pawar was reported as saying by NDTV, but clarified that he was not attempting to avoid the rally which he said was a BJD rally that had nothing to do with the Third Front.
Despite his links with the Left parties, chief minister Patnaik too, is yet to table his aces as he has not yet announced plans on joining the Third Front o the UPA since he broke off ties with the BJP-led NDA recently.
“Pawar has made it clear he is with the UPA. We have no reason to disbelieve Pawar,” said Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal.
Sibal’s statements, however, failed to find echo in Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s speech at an election rally in Kendrapada.
“Now another front is coming up. Sometimes there’s a second front, sometimes there’s a Third Front. Who knows who is joining these fronts and after election we’ll see who stays with whom; who is loyal to whom,” she said in an ostensible attack on Pawar’s plans to join the rally with the BJD and Left parties.
In the run up to the election season the Congress has faced severe assertiveness from regional allies as smelling a shift in Congress’ strategy towards the UPA, several partners in the outgoing government have shunned the party after it ruled out a pan-India pact with any of its partners.
Three key aides of the Congress-led UPA RJD, LJP and SP are also scheduled to meet in Lucknow on Friday.
Lalu Prasad led RJD and LJP recently unilaterally announced a seat sharing pact for Bihar and the SP-Congress ties are said to be curdling since party bosses Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh failed to convince the Congress to enter pre-poll matrimony in Uttar Pradesh.