At a time when drought is looming large over the country and food inflation is going up, it seems agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has gone missing, forcing the Prime Minister’s Office to virtually take over the ministry.
Pawar, who turned vocal with his ire over “lack of coordination” within the UPA alliance, had on Thursday sent a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in which he reportedly offered to quit the government. Since the last two days, Pawar has stopped coming to the ministry, his tables have been reportedly cleared out and he is also not responding to any calls from ministry officials. Raising many eyebrows, he also returned all of his government vehicles to the ministry.
“We have been desperately trying to contact him for the last few days. Till very recently, he used to take our calls. Now even that has stopped,” said an official with the ministry.
Since his letter, Pawar has not responded to the Prime Minister’s request to head the inter-ministerial group appointed to prepare an exigency plan to deal with the deficient rainfall and the “drought-like” situation across the country.
As per official reports, monsoon rains have been deficient by 22 per cent across the country with the situation being really bad in Karnataka and central Maharashtra, Pawar’s home state. Deficient rainfall has affected the sowing of major kharif (summer) crops like rice, cotton, oilseeds and pulses.
But with Pawar missing, the Prime Minister has directed the agriculture secretary Ashish Bahuguna to take charge of the drought management and report directly to him.
While his tiff with the Congress is touted to be the reason behind his absence, the threat of drought also seems to have played a role. “If one look at these developments purely from the ministry’s point of view, it is obvious that the road ahead would be tougher. Whenever there has been drought, the blame has always fallen squarely on the agriculture minister. Who would like to be held responsible for a drought,” asked an official with the ministry. Pawar himself had admitted last week that farmers would face a daunting task to break the two-year record of food production, which seems impossible in near future.
There are also rumours about his health condition and that he wants his daughter Supriya Sule to take his seat. Pawar had boycotted a party hosted by the Prime Minister on the eve of the farewell given to outgoing President Pratibha Patil and even went to greet Pranab Mukherjee in his personal car without using his official vehicle.