NEW DELHI: A strong protest from Congress against NCP's reference to Italy in its attack on Rahul Gandhi de-escalated the tension between the allies on Wednesday.
NCP backed off within minutes of its strong reaction to Rahul Gandhi's purported remark in Lucknow on Tuesday where he blamed government's inability to check food prices on coalition constraints.
NCP spokesperson DP Tripathi had asked Congress to learn the art of running coalitions from Italy. He stressed the Italy analogy, raising Congress's hackles.
Congress took the jibe from the ally spokesman as a snide reference to Sonia Gandhi's Italian roots because NCP chief Sharad Pawar broke away from Congress on the issue of her foreign (Italian) origin a decade ago.
A senior Congress functionary is learnt to have immediately protested to Praful Patel, Union civil aviation minister and a senior NCP functionary. What is going on, the Congress functionary is learnt to have asked, said NCP sources. He also asked whether Tripathi had the NCP leadership's sanction.
Patel denied that Tripathi's swipe was authorized and even agreed that the party spokesperson's reference to Italy was unnecessary.
He followed that up with a statement that NCP did not wish to drag the issue after Congress's clarification that Rahul did not attack Pawar.
On Thursday, Congress moved quickly to assuage any perceived apprehension among the smaller allies about the coalition leaders ambition and said that there was no way of escaping the hard fact of strategic alliances. "Though every party wants to come to power on its own, coalition is the reality," Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said talking to reporters.
At the same time, Singhvi backed Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chauhan's statement earlier in the day about the constraints of coalition politics. "Coalition involves certain give and take," he remarked. Stressing that in the present situation the hard political reality could not be overlooked, he said, "No value judgment on coalition is possible."
That the junior partner interpreted the linkage Rahul Gandhi purportedly made between high prices and coalition politics as an attack on Pawar is easy to understand. The NCP boss is minister for agriculture, food distribution and consumer affairs in the Union government — portfolios with a direct relation to prices. Congress in the past had attacked Pawar for his handling of food prices, alleging that he talks up prices.
Congress also suspects that he uses moments of the party's vulnerability to heap embarrassment on the senior ally.