OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion through Blogs and Podcasts.

Sonia Gandhi speaks about the decisions that have changed her life in an exclusive interview with NDTV.  Mrs. Gandhi’s interview to Vir Sanghvi, launches NDTV’s new series, “One on One” with Vir Sanghvi, which airs on Saturday night at 9.30 pm and Sunday at 12.30 pm.  Speaking on a range of issues that Sanghvi and NDTV have spun as exclusive and insightful Sonia Gandhi talked about how Manmohan Singh came to be Prime Minister, why Rahul Gandhi has to wait for his turn and why the erudite Natwar Singh is person non-grata at 10 Janpath. It must be be highlighted Sonia Gandhi is known for her Sphinx like silence, for the pre-eminent power behind the throne. The AICC website which by the way has barely anything to say about the Congress Party and even lesser of its present and former Prime Ministers is replete with Sonia paeans and eulogies.

Sonia Gandhi to date had given 3 major one on one interviews to Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Shekhar Gupta. The latest one with Sanghvi will go down as the 4th one. Sanghvi who is a known Sonia loyalist and a Congress hack as far as the editorial slant in his op-ed columns goes was perhaps the ideal choice for an interviewer in what clearlt appears to be a carefully crafted exercise of quid pro quo with Sanghvi getting the visibility he needs for his new show and Sonia getting her key talking points via a friendly interviewer. While most of the interview has been largely ignored by most of the mainstream media, specific leaks to the media on Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh, Rahul Gandhi made most of the news in the run upto the telecast of the interview.  Offstumped has analyzed the transcripts put out by NDTV and it throws a refreshing light on how friendly an interviewer Sanghvi was and how much really the Sphinx hath spoken.

Take the Manmohan Singh question for example. Sanghvi asked 2 questions. The first question comprised 4 sentences and 30 words. Sonia’s reply comprised single sentences with some helpful prompting from Sanghvi. Sanghvi’s second question was equally long which Sonia disposed off with a four word single sentence reply. It was the same pattern on all of the other issues with Sanghvi prepping and prompting in effecting putting words out for Sonia. What however we did not see from Sanghvi was some tough questioning on the key issues of the present times. For example if Sonia in 1999 had already made up her mind on Manmohan Singh why then did neither is nor the Congress Party demonstrate the strength of conviction and honesty in going to the polls in 2004 general elections with Manmohan Singh as the leader. What rationale did Sonia had to offer for the apparent fraud on the Indian electorate ?

One also wonders why Sanghvi sidestepped on the key issues defining the National Political Debate like for example what she is her opinion on Clemency to Afzal or what she feels about the growing incidence of Pakistan spawned Terrorism highlighted by the recent arrest of Pakistani nationals affiliated to Al-Badr in Mysore by the Karnataka Police. In what is a clear trend with Sonia the only issues that she feels comfortable waxing eloquently extempore are issues that concern her personally like opting out of the Premiership, Natwar Singh’s betrayal, BJP attacks on her, Rahul Gandhi’s grooming and her act of sacrifice on the Office of Profit issue and Jaya Bachhan. Sonia Gandhi had little to say on the substance of the Office of Profit issue while she had a lot to say on why it was not personal against Jaya Bachhan.

What stumps Offstumped is how Sanghvi and Sonia sidestepped the whole debate around Reservations especially in the light of the recent Supreme Court decision on the creamy layer and the missive from her key ally in Tamil Nadu, the DMK’s Karunanidhi who wants to abuse the Constitituion by resorting to the 9th schedule to ensure all legislation on Reservation to be deemed beyond Judicial review.  A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will on Monday commence hearing on a bunch of petitions challenging Parliament’s power to place in the Ninth Schedule laws circumventing its orders with a view to pre-empt their judicial review.

Offstumped has examined Sonia’s public record on the subject of Reservations and her sphinx silence is mind numbing and goes to further confirm the intellectual bareness of Sonia’s mind when it comes to substansial issues. First a look at all of Sonia Gandhi’s speeches in the Parliament, just 1 speech in her entire parliamentary career on the issue of Reservations (excluding of course 33% reservation for women in the legislature) that too way back in 1999 in what was perhaps her first speech in Parliament parliamentofindia.nic.in/lsdeb/ls13/ses1/2129109923.htm. Since then the only kind of Reservations that Sonia has really advocated for in Parliament is 33% reservation for women in the legislature. A thorough search of Sonia’s website soniagandhi.org did not yield a single quote from her on the reservation issue, the only quotes on reservations are in the Guest book by angry students for and against reservations. A search of the Congress Party’s official website, which by the way is completely about Sonia and absolutely lacking on issues has 2 major speeches and 2 major interviews by Sonia – again no reference to reservations except of course womens reservations. The Congress website also lists all major minor speeches (around 50 odd) by Sonia from the beginning to 2006, we scanned each one of them for references to reservations. Except for passing references in her speeches to the AICC plenary in 2004 and 2006, Sonia Gandhi has not said anything substantiative on the subject of reservations.

In fact the only substantial remarks from Sonia Gandhi on reservations came astonishingly during the campaign for last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2001 as reported by Congress mouthpiece Congress Sandesh http://www.congresssandesh.com/nov-2001/report-6.html. Offstumped is quoting Sonia Gandhi verbatim as reported by Congress Sandesh titled Sonia Demands Quota for Economically Backward

The Congress president, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, demanded reservation for the economically backward among the minorities and upper castes. Mrs. Gandhi who was addressing a public rally here, on 20 October said the party welcomed the decision for a special quota for the Most Backward Classes (MBCs) in the State. But she sought to set her party apart from the others by stating that the Congress believed in speaking for all sections of society. “Others demand reservations only for their own people. Ours is the only party which is not influenced by considerations of caste or religious affiliation”.

Offstumped Bottomline: Sonia Gandhi’s public record on substantiative issues is rather thin. On the politically explosive issue of Reservations Sonia Gandhi has been surprisingly silent. In light of the recent Supreme Court verdict on the creamy layer concept, the question is will Sonia Gandhi demonstrate the strength of her convictions on economic criteria for reservations. The UPA Government lead by Manmohan Singh has so far pretended to be blissfully unaware of Sonia’s remarks of 2001 on Economic considerations for Reservations. For all of Vir Sanghvi’s spin, Sonia’s past comments on Reservations will have to be explained when the UPA Government spells out its stance on the creamy layer in response to the Supreme Court and its southern ally Karunanidhi.  

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