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'We must listen to Left parties' apprehensions'

October 31, 2007 14:49 IST

Rajya Sabha MP and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule talks to Makarand Gadgil about her politics and friendships.

You have taken some initiatives in the health sector and also formed an alliance of young MPs across party lines to prevent malnutrition of children...

Not just malnutrition but also about issues like reducing the dropout rate in our schools, providing basic healthcare in rural areas and good air, clean water and better public transport to our society. No political party can have two views about this. It is not my initiative, I am part of a group of young MPs including Shahnawaz Hussain, Jay Panda, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasad and many others.

Activities in social sector are all very well, but do you think they really bring votes? What we see in real politics is that what really matters is your caste, religion and other such emotive issues.

Maybe. But isn't it our job as elected representatives to try to improve the lives of people who elect us, bring the issues of social relevance to fore and make them talking points in Parliament, Assembly or at local self-governing body? I always draw inspiration from my father on this issue. My father has been winning elections from Baramati from the mid-1960s. He has never tried to play on emotive issues, he always sought votes on the development plank and won.

If you ever become education or health minister, what will be your agenda for these sectors?

My priority will be the quality of education for the poorest of the poor in zila parishad schools and municipal schools as it is the key to bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots. This will give an opportunity to the deprived sections of our society to compete with the elites on an equal footing.

We have to live in the present and in the present, issues like the nuclear deal with the US dominates our politics. So, what are your personal and the party's views on the deal.

Both my party and I wholeheartedly support the deal. It will play an important role in providing energy security. All our efforts in education, health or any other sector will get seriously hampered if we don't have energy security.

Considering your wholehearted commitment to the deal, don't you feel frustrated by the Left's opposition to it?

Why just the nuclear deal, opposition to any development project is frustrating. I would like to give an example. No one disputes that we have to reduce dropout rates, especially for girls in schools. Everyone also agrees that lack of proper toilets is one of the major reasons why girls avoid going to school. Funds are also made available by the central and state governments for toilets in schools. But petty matters at local levels hold up construction of the toilets by six months. In the meantime, prices of cement and steel go up and work remains unfinished, and we can't arrest the dropout rate.

The Left has the right to say what it believes in and oppose what it doesn't. They are the biggest allies of our government, so we must listen to their apprehensions and try to address them. Let there be a healthy democratic debate on this issue and we arrive at some conclusion, which will take us to the path of double digit growth and beyond.

However, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi have now indicated that the deal is on hold. Do you think the United Progressive Alliance government will complete its term in the office?

Isn't it nice to complete your term? People have given you a mandate for five years, so you must try to utilise every moment to fulfil the promises made to the people. It seems clouds of uncertainty about the future of the government have now blown away but you never know, it is coalition politics.

You said your party supports the deal but M Karunanidhi opposed the deal after his party's ministers supported it in the Union Cabinet. The PM has apparently expressed his displeasure over this attitude of allies.

I don't know exactly what the DMK's stand is and I don't think I am qualified to comment. But my party is committed to the deal and we firmly stand behind the PM on this issue.

Another issue which is dominating our country's political landscape is the Sethusamudram project. What is your party's stand on this issue?

As I said earlier, my party wholeheartedly supports all development projects, unless they cause serious environmental damage. So let us wait for the Supreme Court's verdict on this issue. But my party and I believe no one should try to create an emotive political issue out of this project. At the same time, we believe every one in this country should respect each other's religious sentiments.

What role is your party going to play in the coming Gujarat assembly elections?

Our party firmly believes that all secular parties must come together and work out a seat-sharing arrangement. This experiment has worked very well in Maharashtra, Goa and at the Centre. I hope it will work out in Gujarat as well.

You said you are for development. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is also seeking a fresh mandate on the development plank. Then, on what issues will you oppose him?

That is a tough question. One must admit he has done a good job in reducing school dropout rates, reducing corruption in government machinery, improving the power situation in the state and in improving infrastructure. We are glad he is talking development and not harping on a communal agenda.

One last question. Your friendship with Kanimozhi...

It is all stupid, people try to read too many things when there is nothing. I think we became friends because there is a lot in common between us. Both of us are first-time MPs, come from families with a political background, have an interest in the social sector and, more importantly, both of us are young mothers trying to cope with our demanding social, political and personal lives.

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