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Congress guarded on Shekhawat-Pawar meet

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MAY 9. The Congress was today guarded in its response to the Vice-President, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, calling on the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president, Sharad Pawar, here this morning; purportedly to enquire about his health.

Responding to questions about the meeting at a press conference later in the day, the Congress spokesman, Abhishek Singhvi, said since the meeting involved a person occupying a constitutional office, the party did not want to rush to any conclusion.

The official stance on the meeting apart, Congress sources maintained that not much should be read into it as Mr. Shekhawat and Mr. Pawar were known to be old friends and it could just well be a case of the Vice-President going over to enquire about his health as this is the first time the NCP leader came to the Capital after his surgery.

Conscious of the speculations that are bound to be triggered by such a meeting at a time when political realignments are expected, the Congress is of the view that the NCP was unlikely to do anything to jeopardise its alliance with the Congress since both parties are keen on fighting the coming Assembly elections in Maharashtra together. And, for some reason - which they refuse to share with the media - the Congress has been maintaining all along that Mr. Pawar is its most unwavering ally.

Meanwhile, the Haryana Jat Mahasabha and the State unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Jat Mahasabha today pledged their vote and support for the Congress.

Appearing alongside the Congress general secretary in charge of organisational matters, Oscar Fernandes, at the press conference, representatives of the two organisations - which claim to have a support base running into several lakhs - said the community had decided to thrown in its lot with the Congress as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance had ignored farmers.

This apart, Mr. Singhvi said an incident akin to the sari stampede in Lucknow had taken place in Bhilwara in Rajasthan where seven persons had died after consuming illicit liquor provided by the BJP ahead of voting in the State. Another seven are battling for their lives, he added; stating that it was yet another instance of the desperation in the BJP camp to corner votes by hook or by crook.

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