New Delhi : Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said NCP chief Sharad Pawar was "a politician through and through in the best sense of that term" and the "only choice" for the post of agriculture minister during the two UPA governments.
Speaking at the 75th birthday celebrations of Pawar at Vigyan Bhavan, Gandhi said the former minister has a record of enduring achievements in whatever positions he has occupied.
"His friendships with his political opponents and adversaries are legendary. In the modern language of IT, his networking skills are formidable and those skills are much needed when politics takes on a bitter partisan flavour, as it does every now and then. He is a politician through and through in the best sense of that term," Gandhi said.
She said the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress have been valued allies.
Gandhi said she has known Pawar for more than two decades but his association with the Congress was much longer.
"We may have differed on some occasions, as any two individuals would do in a democratic system. But what has always been there is our respect for each other and the mutual belief that the legacy of our founding fathers should be protected, preserved and promoted."
"Although he parted ways with us, the Congress and the NCP have been valued allies," she said.
Pawar along with Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar established the NCP in 1999 after they were removed from the Congress for their stance that only a person of Indian origin should become the prime minister.
The issue had arisen due to the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi.
Gandhi said Pawar was chief minister of Maharashtra three times and he was still remembered for his leadership and effective administration.
"Most recently, he was agriculture minister for a record 10 years between 2004 and 2014. No one else could have been in that crucial position for such a long time. He was a natural choice, in fact, the only choice."
"His tenure was impactful and saw several new achievements," Gandhi said.
She said it was during Pawar's tenure that production of rice and wheat reached record levels.
"He imparted a fresh impetus to agricultural research. His contributions to the development of horticulture in particular are widely acknowledged."
Extending her best wishes to Pawar, Gandhi said, "May he continue to bat as he has been doing and score a century at least".
She referred to the presence of political leaders from across the spectrum and said it was the testimony to Pawar's unique talents.
Referring to Pawar's interest in cricket, Gandhi said not many know that his father-in-law, who tragically died at a very young age, was a leg-spinner and had played seven Test matches for India.
"Perhaps this could have been one influence on him apart from the fact that he has spent so much of his life in Mumbai, which has been the cradle of much of our cricketing talent."
"Whatever it is, he has given to Indian cricket administration the famed Sharad Pawar expertise."
Gandhi said Pawar's wife Pratibha-tai has always remained in the background but "I am sure, has been the anchor of his life for over half a century."
Referring to Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, who is an NCP Lok Sabha member, Gandhi said the "country has a fine, young and promising leader who has already made an impressive mark in parliament".
Pawar was born on December 12, 1940, at Baramati in Pune district of Maharashtra. He is a seven-time member of Lok Sabha and is at present a member of the Rajya Sabha.(IANS)