The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sushma tries pizzas to bridge troubled waters

New Delhi, Feb. 15: Four years after baiting Sonia Gandhi as a videshi in Bellary, Sushma Swaraj is wooing her with pizza.

In her new avatar as parliamentary affairs minister, Swaraj has to build a bridge between the government and the Opposition. And what better way to win a heart than through the stomach'

At a high tea Swaraj hosted for journalists in the Parliament’s library complex on the eve of the budget session, there was a lavish spread of pizzas. Asked why she chose the Italian dish, the minister retorted: “Haven’t you noticed the maalpua'” An equally conspicuous spread of the Prime Minister’s favourite sweet had been laid out, too.

The minister confirmed this was a gesture to Sonia and Vajpayee to mend fences. When a reporter pointed out that Sonia preferred “dal and rice”, she said pizza was an Italian dish after all.

Swaraj needs the cooperation of all parties, especially the Congress, to run the House smoothly. Her predecessor, Pramod Mahajan, had managed to push through a number of Bills with consummate ease in the previous sessions despite the turmoil.

The first woman to be named parliamentary affairs minister with Cabinet rank, Swaraj met Sonia after taking charge and discussed an issue of common interest — the much shelved, controversial women’s reservation Bill. The minister is planning a gift for women to coincide with March 8, International Women’s Day. “At least, I want the Bill to be taken up for discussion by March 8,” she said.

Sonia’s response was “positive”, she said. Swaraj has also discussed the matter with the Prime Minister and he is keen on building a consensus. Vajpayee said he would convene an all-party meeting on the issue. The minister will hold talks with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and Deve Gowda and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Even if there was no political consensus, the government would try to push the Bill through, she said, pointing out that this could be done if the Congress and the BJP both voted for it.

Swaraj denied that a Bill banning cow slaughter would be introduced this session. “There is no such Bill on the agenda”, she said, adding that it did not figure in her February 10 meeting with secretaries and senior officers of various ministries to finalise government business for the session.

The government will give priority to a Customs Tariff Amendment Bill, which seeks to replace an Ordinance, the Electoral Reforms Bill (to allow proxy voting) and the Special Protection Group Bill.

The first half of the budget session will be devoted to financial business and motion of thanks to the President for his address on the opening day of the session.

The railway budget will be presented in the Lok Sabha on February 24 immediately after question hour and the general budget will be tabled on February 28 at 11 am. The session, which begins on February 17, will end on May 9. Parliament will be in recess between March 14 and April 6.

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