|‘I am not going anywhere’
| Following is the text of Sonia Gandhi’s speech to Congress workers on Wednesday:
When I spoke to the Congress parliamentary party yesterday, I expected that there would be some disappointment and some sadness. But I have been totally overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotion from nearly every corner of our country. And I have been humbled by the love and affection that has been so spontaneously expressed.
To all of you who are upset or disappointed, I have this to say: I am not going anywhere. I am still very much in politics. I will continue as Congress president and chairperson, Congress party in Parliament, for as long as you want me to. I am one of you. And nothing will ever change that.
I entered politics out of a sense of duty and commitment. My family has always treated politics as part of a crusade to create a better India. Indiraji and Rajivji made the supreme sacrifice for our nation. Their examples inspired us all and speaking for myself, I know that I derive my strength from their courage. No matter how much adversity I have faced, it is nothing compared to what they had to go through. Today, it is their strength and their inspiration that guide me and the Congress party.
I understand your disappointment. But I appeal to you to understand the depth of my sentiment, when I say that I cannot reverse my decision. We live in times when politics is about power. Let us show the world that for the Congress party, politics is about values and integrity.
As I said, I am overwhelmed by your love. But now, we must get on with the serious business of undoing the damage done by the last government and of working to create the India of our dreams.
I urge you to support the Congress Prime Minister. And I request you to give your full support to the new cabinet. The Congress party is overflowing with talent. Let us give India the government it deserves.
Speaking for myself, I will always be here, working for the party. The Congress is my life. All of you are my family. Let us now build the 21st century India that was Rajivji’s vision.
New Delhi, May 19: Sonia Gandhi chose not to become Prime Minister because she did not want to “embarrass” her allies on the floor of Parliament by making them cannon fodder for an aggressive BJP.
The Congress chief told CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan today that the BJP was sure to attack her every day inside the House if she became Prime Minister. They would try various tactics, including walkouts and boycotts. And the job of defending her, Sonia said, would fall not only on her party MPs but also the Congress’ allies who have stood staunchly by her.
A senior Left leader said Sonia told Bardhan: “Why should I embarrass you every day'” The Congress chief iterated it was never her aim to become Prime Minister; she came into politics because she married into a political family.
Two days ago, Left leaders as well as other Congress allies tried to persuade Sonia not to opt out of the prime ministerial race. But there had been indications that she was not keen on the top job soon after election results made it clear that the Congress would be able to stake its claim to the post.
“There were indications that she was worried the night she had invited the allies for dinner. She did not talk much and seemed tense,” a senior Left leader said. But the allies and Sonia’s own party did not want her to let go of the reins of government.
Right through the turbulence of government formation, the Congress chief relied heavily on the advice and guidance of Bardhan and Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the CPM general secretary. “She has proceeded cautiously, step by step, through this entire exercise. And never for once did she bypass her allies,” a Left leader said.
Sonia continued to consult the leaders even after declining the Prime Minister’s post.
This morning, the Rae Bareli MP met Surjeet to officially seek his endorsement of Manmohan Singh’s candidature for prime ministership. Later, Bardhan drove down to 10 Janpath.
Four days ago, Sonia had requested the CPI general secretary to come to her residence — she wanted advice on how to go about forming a government.
Today, she again turned to Bardhan. The CPI leader asked her to play an active role in the functioning of the Congress-led coalition; she could act as a buffer against the contradictory pulls and tensions always present in a coalition.
Bardhan said she could become chairperson of a co-ordination committee that will decide government policies.
The CPI general secretary also asked Sonia to rein in her party cadre who are still reacting emotionally over her decision to decline the top post.
He told her the drama must end and added that the new Prime Minister has to be sworn in by Saturday. “That is the very outer time limit. There should be no further delay,” Bardhan said.