INTERVIEW | Congress will be a pillar of Opposition unity, says NCP MP Supriya Sule

Express News Service

MUMBAI: After two major defeats in Lok Sabha polls against BJP, the Opposition has started preparing early for 2024. Several meetings have taken place, including Friday’s virtual one called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. 

Lok Sabha MP and daughter of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Supriya Sule has been part of core discussions. She thinks there is a lot of vendetta politics and misuse of central probe agencies.Excerpts from an interview.

The Opposition’s efforts to fight BJP together have not borne fruit yet. For example, there was no electoral unity in West Bengal. Unless that happens, won’t it be tough to halt the BJP juggernaut?

The first big achievement of the Opposition is that like-minded parties have decided to come together for the larger cause of saving the country and democracy. Earlier, the Opposition was fragmented. Now, they are talking to each other, meeting over breakfast and dinner. This is a good sign. Defeating the BJP is another thing, but coming together is an important thing. We should not worry about futuristic electoral success at this juncture. We have to live in the present and strategize for the future. We have shown unity in the monsoon session of Parliament. The Opposition was united on Pegasus and farm bill issues. More meetings will happen. The process has started. Well begun is half the job done.

What are the main challenges? How are you going to counter BJP’s well-oiled machinery and round the clock politics?

There are several challenges. We and the ruling party should understand that our fight is not against any individual. We want to see both Houses of Parliament function, more discussions, thought-provoking and enriching debates. Everyone should join the debate and be a part of the policy-making process. These policies have a long-lasting impact on society. Therefore, healthy discussion is the hallmark of democracy. There should also be some banter. Such things help break the ice between the ruling party and the Opposition. Nowadays, the fun is missing in House debates. Everything is politicised and follows a ‘you versus me’ line. We are missing the soul of democracy. The ruling party should understand we are not against the government. Opposition is a part of Parliamentary democracy. We want to table suggestions on various bills. We do not want to change the entire bill, but a little tweak here and there that makes a difference. But the government is not ready for that. They want to bulldoze everything by trampling over democratic procedures.

If positive changes are made to the bills and in the long run if that particular act becomes successful, then the credit will go to the government only. For example, in this session, the ruling party brought and passed the bill restoring the rights of the state governments to give reservations. When the ruling party had earlier brought the bill to snatch the state government’s rights over reservations, we vehemently opposed and said this is an attack on the federal structure of India. But our demands fell on deaf ears. Now, the same restoration bill was brought and passed. Therefore, we need debate and discussion in the House.

With regards to Opposition unity, what about the morally-down Congress? Isn’t there this ‘old versus young’ going on in the party?

Interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi is a graceful and dignified personality. She has been working hard for her party and Opposition unity as well. UPA I and II was a better government. We may have missed out on certain issues but the fruits we reap today are the work of the Manmohan Singh government. He was a visionary prime minister who took along all parties and all schools of thought. The UPA I and II started several good policies and programmes which were later renamed by the BJP government. Everyone is doing something or the other to strengthen the Opposition. I am confident Congress will once again emerge as a force and will be the main pillar among the Opposition. Everyone is comfortable working with Congress because of its inclusive and liberal approach.

What about Rahul Gandhi? Will other Opposition parties accept him as their leader in 2024?

I personally share a good rapprochement with Rahul Gandhi. We both got elected to Lok Sabha in 2009. We have been working together and exchanging thoughts for the betterment of society. He is a genuine and empathetic person. He is sincere in his thoughts and decisions. He brings in-depth perspectives and dimensions to the table when we discuss policies and political issues. He is well-read and ideologically committed. No one has issues with him. Whether to accept him as Opposition leader, is the later part. First, we have to come together and fight against the BJP. Accepting his leadership is not a key issue at this juncture.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar met celebrated political strategist Prashant Kishor a couple of times in Mumbai and Delhi. You were part of those confidential meetings. What is cooking?

Apart from politics, we have a huge circle of friends and well-wishers. Prashant Kishor is one of our close family friends. My husband and even my daughter know him. This was not the first time we met him. We also feel happy and proud that one of our friends is getting huge electoral success for his strategy and planning. People should not read much in these meetings.

There was talk that Sharad Pawar would be fielded as a presidential candidate from a united face of Opposition? Any comments?

These are nothing but speculations. It has no truth and base. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has clarified his stand over it. We cannot stop people from speculating. We sometimes laugh and enjoy this kind of speculative news.

Former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh is facing ED summons in connection with a money laundering case. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s name was also linked with a private sugar factory case. What do you think of these?

This is nothing but vendetta politics. Can you imagine how many times ED conducted raids at Anil Deshmukhji’s residence? Five times. If probe agencies do not find anything in the first raid, a second or third raid can be understood. But ED has been raiding his premises multiple times without getting anything against him. It shows the intention of the agencies. If he is ready to cooperate with the probe, then why are they harassing him? It shows there is something fishy behind these raids. Ajit Dada was also targeted in a private sugar factory deal. They are digging out old cases and harassing our people. We believe law should take its own course. At least investigative agencies should not be politicised and misused. Due to this, the institutions are losing the public’s trust. No one will remain in power forever, but we have to safeguard our intuitions, their credibility and reputation. It takes years to reach this stage. The institutions should remain sacrosanct and not become a puppet in anyone’s hand.

How do you review the Uddhav Thackeray government’s performance in two years?

In the true sense, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray has emerged a real, administrative leader. He worked hard to earn this reputation as an efficient administrator and leader. Earlier, everyone knew him as Shiv Sena president, but not as an administrator. The way he worked and handled the pandemic pleasantly surprised everyone including me. His team including Deputy CM Ajit Dada was working hard to meet the people’s expectations. The good part of his leadership is he does not take unilateral decisions. If there are issues, he always calls and consults Ajit Dada and Congress minister Balasaheb Thorat. This is the beauty of inclusive and good leadership. We are confident Maha Vikas Aghadi will complete its full five years.