Politics came from my duty to the family, country

Updated: Mar 24 2006, 05:30am hrs
Congress president Sonia Gandhi resigned on Thursday from the Lok Sabha and the National Advisory Council. This is the second time, the Congress leader took such a high ground. Immediately after her partys electoral victory in May 2004, she declined the prime ministers office and instead nominated Manmohan Singh.

Reproduced below are edited excerpts from Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express Shekhar Guptas interview with Mrs Gandhi on NDTV 24x7s Walk The Talk published in May 2004:

You never thought when you got married to Rajiv that you were marrying into a political family

When I came to this family, I was a complete anaari on what was going to come.

What motivated you to come into politics After your husbands assassination, you stayed out for sometime, but what is it that forced you, motivated you, inspired you, or told you that there is no choice

Well, the Congress was going through some problems. And many of my senior colleagues came and asked me to come and help the Congress, to participate in Congress activities because they felt that it would help the party to a certain extent. And I thought hard about it, but there was a conflict within me, because I was never ever keen to join politics. In fact, I never even wanted my husband to join politics, because I had seen my mother-in-laws life, her struggle... all sorts of calumnies being hurled at her, and she led a life of service, and then she was killed.

So you have seen the price you have to pay for politics...

Yes, I have seen that. And at that time I felt about my husband that possibly the same would happen to him. In fact, after my mother-in-law was killed, I knew that he too would be killed.

You knew means there was an inevitability, a premonition

All of us, my children and me, knew that it was just a question of when. It was a difficult phase, but eventually... I have photographs of my husband and my mother-in-law in my office. And each time I walked past those photographs, I felt that I wasnt responding to my duty, the duty to this family and to the country. I felt I was being cowardly to just sit and watch things deteriorate in the Congress for which my mother-in-law and the whole family lived and died. So, at that point I took the decision.

It was not just the pressure from the party people coming and saying Mrs Gandhi come and get us the votes.

Yes, there was a certain amount of.... party people saying that I ought to help out the party. But it was more than that. It was this feeling of responsibility towards the family. And the country... because their lives were the country, service to the people.

Why does the BJP worry you It is a political party...

Because it is a party which believes in a divisive agenda. It has a particular agenda, which at the moment they have sort of softened or kept on the side.

But havent they given it up pretty much in a coalition

No, I dont think so. Here their leaders are giving statements like as soon as we are in power by ourselves, our agenda will be fulfilled. And we all know what their agenda is. This is an agenda against which my family has fought, they lived and died for the country... they fought this agenda because this agenda, if carried out, will divide our country.

And you think that they have got close to succeeding

Well, at the moment it has been partially stalled, because since they dont have the strength they have to have this alliance.

What are the three things that your government will do that will be an improvement over the current government

Well, first of all, I know there are some reservations among people on our stand on reforms... economic reforms. There should be no worry whatsoever. The policy of continuing with economic reform will carry on. Nobody should have any doubts on that. But our economic reforms are slightly different from the BJPs. In ours, there is a very strong focus on social welfare programmes, rural development programmes, poverty alleviation programmes and administrative and financial strengthening of panchayats which has not taken place. In the case of this government what they have done, they have chipped and chopped so many of the poverty alleviation programmes that they have become practically ineffective. We greatly admire our entrepreneurs, administrators and business class, because they have done a great deal. The business community going ahead, we are all for it. At the same time we have to focus on the poor.

Your commitment to the coalition idea is not just for this elections Do you see this as Indias future politics

This is a trend which has started for some time, I see it continuing and therefore, as long as it is needed, we will work with other like-minded parties.

Did the Congress take too long to come to this conclusion

I dont think so. Till 1996, the Congress came to power on its own. The necessity was not there.

But the party missed it in 1998-1999.

Yes, that was a mistake.

Youll not repeat that

No, never.

The campaigns of the NDA government, apart from the fact that they talk about their performance, the second leg is about your origin, even your childrens half-foreign origin.

That should tell you, thats a message to all of us that they have so totally failed that they have to kick up this one issue.

But is that a liability for you or your party that you originally came from Italy Does it work adversely with some workers

It may work adversely with some voters. Frankly wherever I go, especially in rural areas, among women, among less fortunate people, I have never felt even when I first started working in Amethi that I am a foreigner or that they look at me as a foreigner, because I am not. I am an Indian.

You feel fully like an Indian

Absolutely.

When did the transition start When was it completed

Well, the transition was completed long ago. It was a slow transition. After all, marrying into this sort of family, which was part of the freedom movement, which sacrificed, which lived in complete service, seva, of the people. They had no life outside this. So, you also imbibe and assimilate a certain amount of these feelings.

So do you resent it when they talk about your foreign origin

Not at all. In fact, it makes me laugh. How can I resent it if I feel completely Indian When I go abroad, I feel a foreigner there.

You talked about life outside this family, seva. If you were not in politics, if you had spare time how would you spend it You watch movies, cook

Unfortunately, I dont have much time to watch movies, though Id like to. But I do relax, for instance, by reading. I used to read much much more.

What did you read

Autobiographies, books on history, sociology... and am presently reading Shashi Tharoors Nehru: The Invention of India, and of course, I relax the most when I have my family with me, my two grandchildren.

Is there time for family vacation now

I dont see it coming, not for some months.

The transition from a close-knit family to a politician... what was the most difficult thing to adjust to in politics

It was the fact that in politics you have to be constantly available to the people, you have very little time left to yourself and to your family. Certainly, in the beginning there was a little bit of difficulty, but soon I got used to it.

So do you miss the personal space that you had earlier

I have got used to it now. And I think perhaps, if I take up a job or a duty, I feel very strongly that I have to pursue that. Therefore, I dont really miss it.

What would you have done with it if you had that space

Well, I would have first of all loved to have done a Bharat Yatra and visit all the beautiful places that we have. I have done a little bit earlier when my husband was in politics, but in a very small way. So, this has always been one of my strong desires.