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Sonia cheers in-law

Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, Aug. 14: Sonia Gandhi thumped the desk in the Lok Sabha today when Maneka Gandhi evoked former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for reserving seats for women in panchayats.

The Congress chief, however, did not join other members in thumping the desk when her estranged sister-in-law, the women and child development minister in the Narendra Modi government, concluded her reply, just before the House was adjourned sine die.

Sonia entered the House just before Maneka began replying to a debate on atrocities against women and children. She sat attentively as Maneka spoke and thumped her desk when the minister complimented her late brother-in-law for reserving 33 per cent of the posts in panchayats for women.

“Thirty years ago, the government brought about a very significant rule in the panchayati raj — Shri Rajiv Gandhi was responsible for this — in which 33 per centů women were given posts of sarpanches, municipal corporators, zilla parishad members etc,” Maneka said.

Her next sentence, however, appeared to puncture Sonia’s mood and probably made her realise that the compliment was backhanded. Maneka said the reservation could not achieve the goal of empowering women as the government failed to implement it in its true spirit.

“This panchayati raj change could have been the vehicle to bring about a change for women, but it did not and it does not because we do not pay attention to it. The women sarpanches were allowed to be the weakest women whose husbands, sons, male relatives or caste heads controlled the administration of the village and the disbursement of money,” Maneka said.

Neither Rahul Gandhi nor his cousin Varun, Maneka’s son, were present in the House when she spoke.