Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni is known to be one of the ‘bravest’ ministers of the Congress. In an exclusive chat with Zeenews.com`s Swati Chaturvedi on her show Kahiye Janab, Ambika Soni talks about Gandhis, their influence, the Rail Budget, elections and lots more.
Swati: With scams coming to the fore regularly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cannot even say that coalition was a compulsion. What do you have to say?
Ambika Soni: I am not defending the Congress; I just want that Indian politics should remain neat and clean. Today, the system is such where everything is transparent. With the help of Right to Information Act, people of India can have information about anything and everything at a nominal fee of Rs 10 only.
Swati: It means that the country was being looted earlier also, but it has started to come to notice now?
Ambika Soni: No, I m not saying that. I am saying now the system is such where public can obtain any information. Congress has been getting huge support from its voters since the time of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. At the time of Rajiv Gandhi, Congress got 400 plus seats in Parliament, a number that has not been surpassed by any party till now.
Swati: About the Rail Budget, if I say in the words of our young generation, why this Kolaveri Didi? What was that? Mamata Banerjee says that Congress does not respect her. When Congress tries to bring in Pranab Mukherjee and Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s reforms through this man (Dinesh Trivedi), Mamata says ‘cut off his head’. I want to ask, in this political game and blackmailing what role is the governance playing? What about the Rail Budget and passengers’ safety?
Ambika Soni: Passenger safety is our prime concern. Pranab Mukherjee himself said in an interview that Railway Budget is owned by the government and approved by the Finance Minister and only he has the right to say anything on it. For a long time now, the coalition partner has been deciding who will and who will not be the (rail) minister.
And I cannot say anything about Mamata ji`s politics, as she is the president of a party and West Bengal Chief Minister. Dr Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee will discuss all that. No one in the coalition lives without respect.
Swati: At this stage, the Prime Minister is not in a state to make any decision, be it FDI or acting on any scams. The government has become a `Rollback Sarkar`. If Sonia Gandhi was the prime minister, then the situation would not be the same.
Ambika Soni: In 2009 elections, Sonia Gandhi released the party manifesto by declaring Dr Manmohan Singh as prime ministerial candidate. She gave her 100% support to him. The whole Congress party supports him, then how can you say that he is not the ‘political capital’.
The entire nation, the whole party wanted Sonia Gandhi to become the prime minister. Everyone was hoping for this to happen. But after giving a magnificent speech, she involved herself more in the Indian politics and is being loved more by the public.
And if this government had not performed well in its first stint, then it would not have won the elections again in 2009, that too with maximum numbers. Bills like the Right to Information, Right to Education were passed in the tenure of UPA-1 and now we have presented the Bill of Right to Food in Parliament. The UPA government has made a huge difference in the political scenario of this country. How can you say we have done nothing but the scams?
Swati: A new joke doing the rounds these days is that the wrong Rahul announced his retirement. It means, not Rahul Dravid but Rahul Gandhi should have retired. What do you have to say?
Ambika Soni: I guess the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha has said this. It was not expected from him because winning and losing are part of politics and we accept it gracefully. And in a democracy, accepting your demise is considered much higher then accepting your victory. Our votebank has increased in Uttar Pradesh. People of Uttar Pradesh have again started taking the Congress party seriously. They have started thinking about it and you will see its effect in the next elections.
Swati: People say Rahul Gandhi has been misguided. Voters did not like his ways of presenting himself - folded sleeves, bearded, tearing manifesto papers and showing aggression at rallies.
Ambika Soni: First of all, I believe that Rahul Gandhi has his own thinking and he came across as a complete politician on the country’s political scene. You must have seen how well he handled his constituency and won three times from there. Now he has decided to lead from the front for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh.
Swati: Rahul Gandhi said in an interview that his “dream job is to become Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister”, but the grey beards of your party didn`t project him. The Congress could have announced Rahul as the chief ministerial candidate in the elections.
Ambika Soni: I do not have the powers to answer these questions; I don’t know anything about this. I don’t know when Rahulji said all this. He must have said all this informally, off the record.
Swati: You must be agreeing with the point that the entire Gandhi family - Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi - are very upset with the UP election results as they have lost in their own constituencies as well.
Ambika Soni: Other ministers of other parties too have lost in their constituencies. The party is looking into the election results. Answering this question now, will be showing hurry.
Swati: What is the importance of Gandhi family in the Congress now? Are they your vote catchers? No one else except them is suitable for the position of party president or the prime minister?
Ambika Soni: The Gandhi family is very important for the Congress party. They are like magnets to attract votes because they have made significant contribution to the Indian politics. We did some experiments in the party before but they were unsuccessful. I am nearing the end of my career and saying all this from my experience. I have been seeing for the past 40 years that this family has done a lot for us.
I believe that the Congress has benefited a lot from the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi.
Swati: The upcoming Presidential Elections appear to be another big challenge for the UPA because you do not have the numbers. Is Pranab Mukherjee going to be your candidate?
Ambika Soni: I don’t know this! How can I tell you? The UPA chairperson, the Prime Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and his political secretary will decide on this. They will talk to alliance partners and the opposition. Only they will decide who will be the right candidate for the Presidential Elections.
Adaptation By: Deeksha Ahuja