Sonia Gandhi speaks exclusively to NDTV on Women's Bill

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New Delhi:  In an exclusive interview to NDTV's Barkha Dutt, Sonia Gandhi has discussed the Women's Bill and the role she played in pushing it through the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. Gandhi had made a public commitment to delivering the Bill.

She said, "I am grateful to the Opposition" for standing by the bill, which promises 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state Assemblies.

Here is the full text of the interview:

NDTV: It is indeed a historic day, 14 years after it was first conceived, the Women's Reservation Bill has crossed its first hurdle with the Rajya Sabha passing it, after many dramatic moments and many shameful moments inside Parliament as well. Many believe this happened because of the Congress president, who had made a public commitment to the Women's Reservation Bill, prevailed over sceptics even within her own party to push this through. How did the Congress president manage to achieve this and what is the road ahead? We are joined now by Mrs Sonia Gandhi herself. Many many congratulations first... Are you relieved?

Sonia Gandhi: Thank you thank you for your congratulations. Yes I am relieved. I am very happy. You said how did I manage this? It is not me the Congress president managing it, it is the PM, myself, my colleagues, my Congress party, of course especially the woman of our party. And it's not just women in Parliament, it's women throughout the country... And I am particularly happy because women of our country are going to get reservation in Parliament... 33 per cent which is quite a bit.

NDTV: It really is quite a day, but I must ask you, you say it's the entire party's will. But were you disappointed that this has not happened on International Women's Day?

Sonia Gandhi: No, not at all. When I spoke, I used the word 'if' in my speech, in my address. And no, I was not disappointed because I know that it was a difficult legislation and certainly problems may crop up. And one wasn't really sure but of course we were hopeful throughout, I was keeping my fingers crossed too. I think the support was there in the party and women in particular and that has really what has kept my hope and my determination?

NDTV: Did you have a sleepless night, especially after what happened with Hamid Ansari. That must have been quite upsetting...

Sonia Gandhi: Well that was not at all the right to thing to do. But these scenes have been seen before but I haven't seen them myself. Of course, we have seen them in Assemblies, but what to do?

NDTV: Some of your allies are not happy. Mamata is upset, she says allies were not consulted. Are you upset with Mamata Banerjee's response?

Sonia Gandhi: Well I can only say I was told that when it came up in Cabinet, all three coalition partners were very supportive. They immediately said yes. DMK has been supportive from the beginning, so has Sharad Pawar been. Mamata was in the Cabinet and I was told by the person next to her that she was actually very enthusiastic and she almost stood up to welcome. I don't quite understand what has happened. I hope she will understand.

NDTV: Have you spoken to her?

Sonia Gandhi: I haven't spoken to her, so much has been happening.

NDTV: What about Lalu and Mulayam, especially Laluji as you have enjoyed such a good personal rapport despite all the political ups and downs? Do you still think it can be saved?

Sonia Gandhi: It is true there is a personal rapport with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu and other leaders. But of course, when it comes to political issue then the personal relation doesn't count too much. I do understand their problems and compulsions. I think we all have to think to be generous and learn to think of the larger picture. Women empowerment is after all a dream, a vision of Rajivji. It is a genuine vision. We now have so many women in Panchayats. At that time too there was so much resentment and opposition, but look today, so many of them are empowered.

NDTV: I was going to ask you, this is something close to your heart, you mentioned Rajiv Gandhi having brought it in. This is something very close to your heart, this gender issue?

Sonia Gandhi: Well, it has always been. I am proud that in our government, we have a woman President and woman Speaker in the Lok Sabha.

NDTV: The first hurdle has been passed. But Lok Sabha is going to be rowdier. Are you now determined that come what may you will go through with this? No changes, no looking back?

Sonia Gandhi: Well, the first step has been taken and as a natural corollary to this, the next step will have to be taken.

NDTV: In this Session?

Sonia Gandhi: I can't say...I can't say.

NDTV: But you're committed, your party is committed?

Sonia Gandhi: Of course our party is committed or we wouldn't have taken the first step.

NDTV: There are those even in your party who seem to be worried that it's a huge step but a huge risk too. The party is in minority in Rajya Sabha, without the support of the Yadavs it might be very difficult to get bills passed. Did you weigh these pros and cons before?

Sonia Gandhi: Well, it is a huge risk but we have taken risks before. Whenever there is something revolutionary and new, there is opposition, there are difficulties in all parties, perhaps in my party too. But as I said the larger picture of women empowerment is more important.

NDTV: There are those who are asking for OBC quota, minority quota. Do you feel bill needs relooking?

Sonia Gandhi: To those who ask such questions, I would say this: Who is going to prevent you from giving seats to Muslim woman, OBC women, a seat in 33 per cent? Who is going to prevent them from doing it? Right?

NDTV: Want to get a sense of your mind and what went into this. Yesterday must have been a depressing day to watch what happened in Parliament. Did you, at some stage, decide that even if this affects the working of the government, it was a risk you believed was worth taking?

Sonia Gandhi: As you know, we meet among our colleagues, PM and the core group and we discuss issues, and when issues like this are discussed, both sides of the picture are put before us - either the PM or myself or Pranab, a person who has to deal more directly with all this. And then we take a view after assessing the situation, after assessing what is going to be the positives and negatives. Then together we come to a conclusion. So it is not just me or my decison, I couldn't have taken this decision on my own. All of us, the PM and others together came to this decision.

NDTV: Are you worried this will impact the government's functioning?

Sonia Gandhi: In politics there are always risks and things may impact one way or the other, but as I said, the larger picture has to be taken into view.

NDTV: I know many look upon you as somebody who has never needed the benefits of a Bill like this. You have contested on a general seat. There are many women politicians like this. There are those who are asking that is it healthy for women to contest against women. After all, we can beat any men if we want.

Sonia Gandhi: Why not? Why shouldn't it be healthy? I don't quite understand this.

NDTV: In the sense, those who are criticising the Bill are saying that look women can contest against men also, that they don't have to contest only against women. What are your thoughts.

Sonia Gandhi: The problem is, when the time comes they don't want women to fight against you. There are always excuses - Oh no, she can't do it, the opponent is too powerful. So then how long are we going to wait? Not me, but all the women in general.

NDTV: Are some of the male MPs in your party very upset? Are they under depression?

Sonia Gandhi: No, many of them are congratulating me. I was in the Central Hall, discussion had not even started in Rajya Sabha, I was exiting, and it was already clear that things are going to go smoothly. Some of them congratulated me. So I asked them 'sach-much?... Badhai' (laughs).

NDTV: Do you think they are in depression?

Sonia Gandhi: No, I think together men and women... after all, men have supported the Bill. We must thank them. We have to together serve the country. I am grateful to them. Of course, the Left, the BJP has supported, our coalition partners have supported. And I hope those who have not supported, with time, will understand the importance of this legislation.

NDTV: Where did you watch the proceedings from?

Sonia Gandhi: I was at home watching it on TV mostly.

NDTV: Were you tense?

Sonia Gandhi: Certainly a bit, I was.

NDTV: If the vote had to go through without the debate, were you prepared for it? In the end both happened.

Sonia Gandhi: Well, it is not really healthy in a democracy to have a legislation such as this without a discussion. So, I am happy and relieved that the discussion and debate has taken place.

NDTV: And finally, what is your primary emotion right now?

Sonia Gandhi: I'm very happy.

NDTV: Thank you

Sonia Gandhi: Thank you

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