Congress president Sonia Gandhi says younger MPs will be given a place in the government. “In the latest party exercise, I have given an opportunity to quite a number of younger MPs and non-MPs. After the exercise in the party, we were going to do the same in government. I hope this will be possible,” she said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Friday.
When asked if a cabinet reshuffle was in the offing, she said, “You should have asked the prime minister about it.”
Sonia did not deliver a speech, instead she took questions from HT’s Advisory Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi and subsequently, from the audience. Topics ranged from Rahul Gandhi’s induction as general secretary, the nuclear deal, mid-term polls, her assessment of the government’s performance, her entry into politics, the office-of-profit controversy and Pratibha Patil’s election as president.
An appreciative audience relished the candid responses as Sonia reacted, clarified or expounded — on several subjects for the first time — with Sanghvi setting the ball rolling with questions that brought out her persona and style of functioning.
Depending on the issue, she turns for advice to the Congress Working Committee, her senior aides and younger MPs, Sonia said. But it’s her son Rahul, daughter Priyanka and son-in-law Robert Vadra whom she consults on “personal matters” — like quitting the Lok Sabha to spare the government the “embarrassment” caused by the “serious oversight” of not exempting the National Advisory Council as an office of profit. She said she chose to renew her mandate because she did not want an ordinance just to bail her out.
On her comments at Jhajjar, Haryana, Sonia said they were not aimed at the Left. “I know everyone would want me to say that it was an attack on the Left. But I am going to disappoint them. I was talking of the opposition to our government in Haryana,” she said.
“We (the UPA and the Left) are working in a coalition. If I have to say something, the last thing I would do is to publicly go out and shout that I don’t agree. I will call them and express my reservation… and give them an opportunity to freely express their views,” she said. The prime minister does the same, she added.
“Isn’t that how it should be?” she counterposed, drawing an analogy with business partnerships where differences are resolved through dialogue at board meetings and not at press conferences.
On suggestions that the speech would continue to be seen as anti-Left, she underlined yet again: “It was not on my mind… The dharma of coalition is not to look for confrontation but to work together.”
Speaking for the first time on Pratibha Patil’s presidential nomination, Sonia said she knew that the Opposition —”the way they are”— would go to any extent to block the Congress in the presidential election.
Dismissing reports that the government had second thoughts on Patil’s candidature, Sonia said that was exactly what the Opposition wanted — to divide the UPA coalition, create doubts and mount pressure.
“Come what may, I decided I would not give in to them,” she said, hitting the table to emphasise her point. “The PM, too, said we shall face all that comes but will not change the candidate. And now we have a woman as President,” she said. The Congress president also underlined that it was “not accurate at all” to project Rahul’s entry into the AICC as a “succession”.
A family background and name did give a person — in any sphere of life — a headstart. “But in our democratic system you have to prove yourself and that can only be done through hard work,” she said. Rahul had been working hard in his constituency and it was only when he thought he was ready to take on the responsibility, he became general secretary, she said.
“I don’t think it is a step towards something more. He himself would not want it,” she added. She recalled that even before he entered politics, people were talking of his impending entry. But Rahul himself felt that he ought to pick up experience before taking on new responsibilities.