Expecting a positive impact

Print edition : July 18, 1998

Sharad Pawar would seem to be trying to put on a brave front with regard to the uproar created by the stunning defeat of the Congress (I)'s official candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections in Maharashtra and allegations about his role in the defeat. In an interview to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, he said that as the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, he had more important things to attend to than commenting on an election that took place many days earlier. According to him, the most important thing now is to concentrate on building the party and making its performance in Parliament more effective. "And, I am doing exactly that," he said. Excerpts:

The setback in the Rajya Sabha election in Maharashtra has given a controversial dimension to the relationship among Congress(I) leaders. You are also accused of having been responsible for this situation.

I do not want to comment on this issue any longer. As the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, I have more important things to attend to. Anyway, the issue is out in the open. The party leadership as a whole is looking into the happenings related to the election. I am sure that the party in its collective wisdom will take an appropriate decision.

There is a view in the party that the cross-voting was a reaction to the failure of Sonia Gandhi to understand the possibilities and limitations of realpolitik and guide the party accordingly.

I have not heard any such comments in the party. Sections of the media have the habit of coming to absolutely baseless conclusions. I do not want to respond to such conclusions.

But is it not a fact that Sonia Gandhi's elevation to leadership created the hope that factional squabbles will cease and that this hope has been belied?

I do not think that it is fair to make such observations. Soniaji took over only recently. One cannot expect miracles from her. And it is not as though she alone is responsible for removing all problems in the party and developing the party into a cohesive organisation. All senior leaders have a responsibility to do this. We should remember that we are not in the Congress(I) only to enjoy the fruits of power.

There has been criticism of Sonia Gandhi's style of functioning and her dependence on a coterie consisting mainly of apolitical people. There have also been suggestions that senior leaders like you and former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao are frustrated over this. How do you analyse Sonia Gandhi's leadership?

Soniaji has responded to the challenge and responsibility of leading the Congress(I) very well. One of the foremost things that a leader should do while trying to build the party is to keep in touch with the masses and interact with grassroots-level workers. Soniaji is now available in the AICC office most of the time and this has increased the interaction between her and grassroots workers. She has also addressed the challenge of rejuvenating the party in States like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, where partymen were demoralised on account of the reverses in the last parliamentary elections. The organisational revamp in these States is bound to have a positive impact on the Congress(I) as a whole.

Under Sonia Gandhi's leadership there is a strong tendency to concentrate on organisational affairs and an aversion to taking political initiatives against the BJP Government. What are the reasons for this?

The party has not shown any aversion to taking political initiatives against the Central Government. On issues such as the nuclear tests and the Ayodhya temple controversy, the party has taken a correct and proactive stand. And we have pushed the Government back on many issues and forced it to correct wrongdoings. For instance, the withdrawal of the hike in urea prices.

But on the Ayodhya controversy, the letter sent by Sonia Gandhi to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee became counter-productive.

But it served an important purpose in getting the Prime Minister to make a promise that the court verdict will be accepted by the Government. The Ayodhya controversy had caused panic among the people and the letter as well as the response it evoked helped to quell the panic.

Some Opposition parties are of the view that Sonia Gandhi is letting go of opportunities to topple the Government and lead an alternative government. This, in their view, amounts to shirking responsibility...

The Congress(I) is a responsible party. It cannot take any hasty decision. We will lead our government when a real opportunity comes and when we are sure that we can give good government.

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