UPA CHAIRPERSON Sonia Gandhi says that she shares a relationship of mutual trust with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But she also believes that as president of the Congress party, it is her duty to convey the party's feelings on such issues as the fuel price hike and the acquisition of land for SEZs to the government.
In an exclusive interview (to be telecast on Saturday on NDTV 24X7), Mrs Gandhi conceded that there were doubts in the party over certain issues and that it was necessary to air them. On the SEZ controversy she said, "On this particular issue I myself had doubts," which is why she raised her objections at the Nainital conclave.
She denied that the policy had been cleared with her before it was announced, explaining that every ministry did not clear every policy with her. "That is absolutely not so and neither would I want it to be so," she said.
On the fuel price hike, she refuted suggestions that the party's protests had been done for show. "It wasn't a drama," she said. "You will understand that if there are certain feelings within my party it is my duty as president of the party to convey that to the prime minister and that is what I did."
Mrs Gandhi accepted that the Congress was aware that a petrol price hike was imminent but said that there was "a miscommunication about the exact figure" regarding the quantum of the hike, which explained why Congressmen reacted so strongly.
She was categorical that the petition filed by the Congress candidate against Jaya Bachchan's election to the Rajya Sabha had not been done on her instructions. She denied that the petition emerged out of vindictiveness on her part. "There is no question about it," she declared. "My nature is not a vindictive one and is not a petty one. And besides, I have larger issues to concentrate on than the petty ones for which I am accused."
Mrs Gandhi denied that her failure to invite the Samajwadi Party (SP) to join the UPA coalition had anything to do with her personal sensitivities. Asked if she was upset by the things SP MPs had said about her, she responded, "Not at all. These things don't upset me."
Why then had she kept the SP out? "We went into the election with some political leaders with whom we had some understanding," she said.
But the SP "ran some pretty nasty campaigns against the Congress. So, you can't expect that overnight you can suddenly become all smiley-smiley," she said.
Asked why she chose to resign from the Lok Sabha over the office-of-profit controversy, even as the government was preparing an ordinance to exempt her position, Mrs Gandhi said, "I felt that because of me the government found itself in a very awkward position and I did not like that feeling."
She said the decision to resign was taken immediately and snapped her fingers to indicate how quickly she had decided to quit. She did not consult her party but said that she spoke to Rahul and Priyanka before resigning.
On the Volcker controversy she said that Natwar Singh had "misused the name of the party and I felt extremely betrayed. Anyone in my place would have felt the same. He was a colleague in whom I had placed trust and I felt very terribly betrayed."
Asked about Natwar Singh's view that the party failed to stand by him, Mrs Gandhi responded, "How can he say that? How can the party defend someone in a situation for which there is no defence?"
To the charge that she sometimes comes across as a jholawala, NGO-type, she said, "Perhaps a little bit… I have great respect for activists and NGOs because they work with great dedication. The kind of dedication with which they work is rare these days and that's why I admire them."