I compliment every student out on the streets for the cause of democracy: Supriya Sule
Supriya Sule isn’t the screaming young blood whose video would go viral on Twitter but you’ll often find her drawing attention when she makes her point with diplomacy -- as her interview bears out!
Whether it’s raising a strong but composed voice in Parliament or doing ground-level work in her state, the NCP’s Supriya Sule has carved out a space for herself in Indian politics. She is now indeed more than just party chief Sharad Pawar’s daughter.
Sule isn’t the screaming young blood whose video would go viral on Twitter but you’ll often find her drawing attention when she makes her point with diplomacy -- as her interview with The New Indian Express bears out! Here’s what she had to say:
Q: How is the alliance with the Shiv Sena going?
It’s a Congress-Shiv Sena-NCP alliance. Our government is here to serve the people and over the next five years, you will see us delivering superior results in the larger interests of the state and the nation.
Q: Was it a difficult decision to make an alliance with the Sena, as their ideology is a lot different from that of the Congress and NCP?
Not really, because our work is based on a Common Minimum Program that is in the larger interest of Maharashtra. So when you know what your goal is, and it’s a common goal of serving the people and making sure Maharashtra is at number 1, then it all becomes a lot easier.
Q: So what is the focus on? Which sectors?
I think the only focus is development and more development. Obviously, development includes health care, education, infrastructural projects. This is what governments are supposed to do. So, I don’t think any government should have any other agenda than serving the people and making their lives better.
Q: The BJP could have possibly gone wrong in cutting down the Aarey forest. Is there any plan on stopping that project?
Well, with the earlier regime, even the Sena had objected to the move. I had objected to it too. I myself went for a couple of those agitations. I felt we could have waited and planned it a little better. But obviously, I think they got a court order on a Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, they just killed them – over 2200 trees were already cut there. They’ve already devastated that area. It’s very unfortunate. I am completely for development but I feel development and environment need to go hand in hand. We need to find a middle path and make sure there is no imbalance.
Q: Are there any plans right now to help the environment?
Oh, clearly! The environment will be a top priority of this government. I don’t think we can do without it because it’s what we leave. If we leave only buildings, but absolutely no land or food to eat, what will we leave for the next generation? I think global warming is a phenomenon that is seeing us all paying a huge price. Even now, there’s a small and tiny slot where we can correct it. So, I hope we take the corrective action now.
Q: What do you think about the students’ protests?
I think it is unfortunate that students who are supposed to study are out on the streets. But I compliment every student of India today who is on the streets for the right cause which is democracy and freedom of speech. It makes me proud that there are children and youth in India who are so sensitive that if somebody is going to try to muzzle their voices and their rights, they are here to stand. This is not a party activity, it is not a political activity. It is a social activity. I think people in the government should be very concerned because this is just simmering. And it’s all in the larger interest. So they should not try to muzzle any voices.
This government came to power with the agenda of development. What happened to that? Look at unemployment. We’ve never had worse unemployment. The data speaks for itself. This government loves to throw data and the data has just been horrible and absolutely heartbreaking. Internationally, India has taken a huge beating. So where are the investments going to come from? For job creation, wealth creation, making sure people have better lives, we need good administration and this has to come from safety and security which is a basic right that the constitution has given us and I see India at absolutely difficult times. I see a lot of unrest among citizens today which is devastating for me, personally.
Q: Are these protests enough to bring about a change?
Well, I think every drop in the ocean matters. Even if there is one student, it matters to me. This government is a deaf government so any amount of screaming doesn’t matter to them because they don’t want to hear it. As I always say, this is only an outgoing government. There’s no incoming. The central government doesn’t hear anything. It only speaks when it wants. There is a vibrant democracy in India that we take so much pride in. But in the new India the original soul of the vibrant democracy that we talk about (is missing).
Q: Moving to slightly light questions, can you tell us what role your father played in your growing up years, especially because he’s such a big personality?
I think every parent plays a role. Why only my father? My mother played an equally important role. And I think every parent is special and every child is gifted. I feel you are gifted, your cameraman is gifted and every relationship is very special. Success cannot be based on one single yardstick. I look at life very differently. Just because there’s some power or glamour, I don’t think of it as a success.
Success is contributing to nation-building but this does not only mean policymaking. Even if you have helped one citizen, I think it’s a big deal. I think it’s the right values that take you forward and each one of us comes from the background of a basic Indian home. We are so blessed that we’re both girls, we’re both qualified and educated. Our parents gave us this opportunity so every parent to me is very special and gifted.
Q: From being brought up as Sharad Pawar’s daughter to making your own identity. People now know you for who you are...
Well, I’m flattered to hear that but I am still Pratibha and Sharad Pawar’s daughter, clearly. I was brought up in Mumbai which is a very levelling city. Nobody there really cares whose daughter or whose son you are. It’s a very cosmopolitan city. So, if anybody has an issue, just send them there!
Q: Which women have you taken inspiration from?
I get inspiration talking to you and the two women behind the camera. I take inspiration from anybody. There are millions of women and why are we leaving the men out? This whole thing about ‘oh, it’s only about gender’ - I want to live in a gender-equal society. I was brought up in a gender-equal home. I was never told that you’re a girl so you cannot do this. I think when we talk about safety and security, yes, a girl’s safety and security is very critical but so is that of a boy and of society. I think every citizen has equal rights.
People like you and me represent modern India, where we’ve got equal rights but there are some parameters where we feel oh my god, a girl needs a little more attention than a boy for her safety and security. For no other reason are we less. I always tell people this. We want a father, we want a husband, we want a boyfriend or a son. So if we have so many men impacting our lives who are so special and precious to us, why are we competing with them? Let them have 50. We don’t want 49, we don’t want 51. We want a fair amount of share.
Q: What was your childhood like?
In Mumbai, everybody has a normal childhood, fortunately. We grew up in a home where there was no security, even when my dad served as the Chief Minister four times. The door would be open. Anybody could walk in.
I think society has changed, life has changed. I see fortresses all over when I go to people’s homes because times have changed and I actually feel sorry for people who have to live with security. There’s just no freedom. I’d be claustrophobic if I had to live like that. I actually feel sorry for anybody who has to. Imagine chilling in a Cafe Coffee Day and there’s somebody breathing down your neck. Would you like that?
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a politician?
Well, I learn something every day from everybody.
Q: Is there one special thing you can tell us?
One thing is, nobody can challenge your hard work. In the 2014 election, everybody was talking negatively about me. The media was on a roll against me. The then Chief Minister came five times to my constituency, the home minister, the BJP head, everybody! There were 20 people from Delhi sitting in my constituency 24/7 and I used to wonder, how will I fight this power and money and everything? I realized that people watch you from a distance. They are watching every action that you’re doing. Never underestimate the power of the people and hard work.
Q: You mentioned in a panel that the current government is trying to deviate from real issues with the discussion of CAA and NRC. Which issues are these?
For me, the current issue is the economy! I mean, in a country like ours, malnutrition is still a huge challenge. Making sure kids get a quality education is still a challenge. It’s not 100%. I feel these are the core issues we need to work on like infrastructure – be it roads or transportation for people. How many kids in rural India can get to school or college on time? The state transport bus doesn’t come on time. So really do we need a bullet train or do we need to improve all this?
Let’s discuss issues. For me, malnutrition is an absolute passion. I want to take pride and say that I come from a country where there is zero malnutrition and zero anaemia because that indirectly covers poverty. So these are the core issues that any country like ours with a large population needs to address. We are from one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. The other things can wait. You want to do it, do it. But, what is your priority? This government’s mandate was development. They’ve totally lost that on the way.
Q: The 2014 mandate was for development. But the 2019 focus was on a lot of other issues...
Absolutely! It is very unfortunate. There’s too much distraction.
Q: Is there anything on paper that has been planned about the farmers’ crisis in Maharashtra?
Well, it doesn’t have to be only on paper. It has to become a reality. I think even if one farmer commits suicide, there is a problem. I’ve worked with widows of farmers whose husbands have committed suicide so I know the trauma that the family goes through. It’s not like you go and give one cheque and you move on. They deal with it day in and day out.
So I think we need to put all our minds above politics and try to find a solution to the agrarian crisis all over India. Loan waiver is, of course, one of the methods but technology, water management – there’s an entire roadmap towards it. That’s the direction we need to move in. And the biggest thing is they should get a minimum support price so when they earn, they have to get the price they deserve.
Q: So do we have any schemes chalked out?
Oh yeah, clearly. All governments try. Some fail, some don’t. I think if the rural economy does well, the country does well.