Prez, PM, Sonia hail Sharad Pawar as he turns 75

New Delhi: As he turned 75 today, NCP boss Sharad Pawar was lauded for his political acumen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said the Maratha strongman always knows which way "the wind is blowing" and hailed his commitment to agriculture.

President Pranab Mukherjee praised Pawar for helping India turn into net exporter of foodgrains from being an importer and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi acknowledged his "formidable networking skills" as leaders across the political divide joined the celebrations.

"Like a farmer who can gauge the weather, Sharadrao is aware which way the political wind is blowing," the Prime Minister said at a function to felicitate the former agriculture minister at Vigyan Bhavan.

Hailing the NCP chief's commitment to agriculture, Modi said as Gujarat Chief Minister he always saw Pawar focusing on innovation and working on ways and means to make India self-reliant in foodgrains.

"Even today, talk about sugarcane and he will talk for an hour. Whenever you meet Sharadrao, even for ten minutes, he will bring up the issue of farmers," he said.  

Noting that Pawar balanced politics and the cooperative movement, Modi said the secret behind the strengh of the Maratha strongman was his constructive work.

President Pranab Mukherjee described Pawar, a former ministerial colleague, as one of the "outstanding" political leaders. He said during his tenure as agriculture minister, the country witnessed record levels of production.

"The policies he initiated played a significant role in India becoming one of the largest producers of wheat and rice and turning from a net importer to exporter," the President said, a view also echoed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

With a cross section of political and industry leaders present, Gandhi said Pawar's "networking skills are formidable".

"We may have differed on some occasions, many occasions, but always had mutual respect for each other," said Gandhi. It was on the issue of Sonia's foreign origin that Pawar had quit Congress in 1999 and formed the NCP.

A number of political leaders of different parties were on the dais including Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, National Conference Patron Farooq Abdullah, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis and his Rajasthan counterpart Vasundhara Raje were also present.

The function was attended by several Union Ministers including Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu besides MPs and leaders of various parties including BJD's Tathagat Satpathy.

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