Chidambaram and Akhilesh talk business over coffee and idli

Lucknow, March 29 (IANS) Over cups of steaming coffee and idli, union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav Friday talked business as speculation mounted over the future of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress equation.

The meeting comes amid speculation that the SP and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are headed for a split.

Officials privy to the meeting told IANS that Chidambaram headed here after a brief break in New Delhi on way back from Sharjah, and that the two discussed “everything but politics” over the carefully chosen snacks, ordered specially to tickle the south Indian taste buds of the visiting union minister.

The meeting started at 8.50 a.m. and went on till 9.30 a.m. with officials from both sides discussing ways to develop the state and assist in the progress of Uttar Pradesh.

While the chief minister apprised the finance minister of the delay in releasing funds for a number of centrally aided projects, Chidambaram assured Akhilesh Yadav that he would go back to Delhi and revert within a fortnight on the issues raised.

“The FM was very reassuring on our demands and underlined that the union government was committed to development of the state,” said a senior official present at the meeting.

Uttar Pradesh has large financial needs, Chidambaram is believed to have told chief minister, who put forth several demands. “I will look into them and get back within a few weeks,” the official quoted Chidambaram as telling Akhilesh Yadav.

Chidambaram also lauded the chief minister for “starting his tenure well”.

Akhilesh Yadav, it is learnt, asked the finance minister to expedite release of pending payments on central aided projects and sought the “speeding up of procedural clearances on the $3.5 billion assistance the state has sought from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other external agencies”.

There are 24 central-aided projects of more than Rs.150 crore investment in Uttar Pradesh in sectors like petroleum, power, telecom and road transport. The annual plan outlay of the state, the finance minister told chief minister, had been growing steadily – from Rs.39,000 crore in 2009 to Rs.57,800 crore in 2012.

The finance minister also complimented the officials of the state for succeeding in opening up 300 branches in the state in just three months.

Later, inaugurating 300 new bank branches in the state at a function, Chidambaram used the occasion to assure “SP president Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav)” that the UPA was committed to the development of the state.

While referring to backward states in the country, he said he did not favour any special status to any particular state and wanted all of India to grow. But he also said that “without development of UP, progress and development of India was not possible”.

The finance minister was later closeted with senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari and select Congress leaders at his suite in the hotel.

Sources said the state Congress leadership apprised Chidambaram of “political developments” related to the growing demand in the SP to sever its ties with the UPA.

SP general secretary Ram Asrey Kushwaha Friday said the Lok Sabha polls could be held in 2013.

Party chief Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh Yadav have already dropped ample signals that their nine-year relationship with the Congress had touched rock bottom, indicating that they were ready for snapping of ties.

The SP’s 22-MP support is crucial for the survival of the Manmohan Singh-led government that has seen the Trinamool Congress and the DMK withdrawing support.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hinted that the SP might pull the rug from under the feet of the UPA but asserted that his government would complete its term.

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