MUMBAI: Senior NCP leader Praful Patel on Saturday claimed veteran politician and the party chief Sharad Pawar couldn't become prime minister on two occasions in 1990s when he was with Congress due to a "darbar coterie" in that party acting against him.
Speaking on the occasion of Pawar's 80th birthday, Patel said this "unfinished dream can be fulfilled".
"Pawar strengthened his position as a front-rung leader in the Congress in a very little time. He was surely cut off for a prime ministerial role in 1991 and 1996, but the 'darbar' (nepotism) politics of Delhi put a spanner.
"This was definitely a personal loss to him, but moreover for the party and the country," Patel wrote in a newspaper article.
He stated a "scheming coterie" of the Congress 'darbar' in Delhi used to engineer revolts in state units to weaken strong leaders.
When asked about the article, Patel told reporters in Mumbai that "Pawar missed the opportunity to become a Prime Minister on two occasions. 'Bante, Bante rah gaye'. Now, if the entire Maharashtra stands by him, our unfinished dream can be fulfilled".
He was speaking after attending an event organised by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to mark Pawar's birthday.
"What I said (in the write-up) was we had seen when we (leaders) were with the Congress," the NCP General Secretary said.
When contacted, a senior Congress leader said Pawar had rejoined the Congress in the year 1986, "and in Delhi his image was that he wasn't a loyal Congressman. In 1978 too, he had revolted against the party".
The leader, however, refused comment on Patel's article.
Patel wrote that after Rajiv Gandhi's death (in assassination in 1991), there was a strong thinking among Congress workers and leaders that Pawar should be made president of the Congress.
"However, the 'darbar' coterie opposed the idea of a strong leader and hatched a plan to make PV Narasimha Rao as the party chief. Rao was ailingand had not even contested the Lok Sabha polls. He was planning to shift to Hyderabad and retire. However, he was convinced and was made the president of Congress only to oppose Pawar's candidature," Patel stated.
He further wrote that Congress was very close to achieve a majority after the Lok Sabha polls held after Rajiv Gandhi's death.
"A big group of leaders in the Congress believed that the Prime Ministerial candidate should be young and dynamic like Pawar who has a good grip over administration. The coterie used or misused Sonia Gandhi's name to anoint Rao as the PM," he stated.
The former Union minister said Rao had nursed animosity against Pawar and always thought about cutting down the latter's influence.
"In 1996, the Congress won 145 seats. H D Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav as well as Left leaders said they will support the Congress if Pawar is made PM, but Rao did not budge and Congress was forced to support Deve Gowda from outside.
"When Rao stepped down as the Congress president, he pushed the name of Sitaram Kesri as his successor to ensure that Pawar was not selected," Patel wrote.
Pawar had served as defence minister between June 1991 to March 1993 when PV Narasimha Rao was prime minister.
He quit the Congress in 1999 citing foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi and formed the NCP.
Pawar later joined the UPA government headed by the Congress in 2004.
He served as Union agriculture minister till the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
One of the foremost opposition leaders with a political career spanning over five decades, Pawar is seen as a pivot to the anti-BJP front in the country.
Pawar was instrumental in the formation of the NCP-Congress combine's unlikely tie-up with the Shiv Sena last year, after the Sena fell out with its ally BJP following the assembly polls.