Businesslike, she wastes little time and She has nothing to prove any longer, says Balasaheb Thorat

The common man has been at the centre of all her decisions taken in the UPA, NAC and as Congress President, says Maharashtra revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat while extending his birthday greetings

Businesslike, she wastes little time and She has nothing to prove any longer, says Balasaheb Thorat

Balasaheb Thorat

Let me say this. I am in awe of Sonia Ji’s abilities and have developed great respect for her. She grasps issues in no time and no discussion extends beyond five-six minutes with her, before she turns her attention to the next job at hand. She is happiest when she is given precise information that she is seeking on any matter. She says little but when she does, her words are sharp, pointed and precise. Her instructions are clear, questions incisive and she listens attentively and obviously expects people to be clear, economical and coherent.

What also stands out is her deep understanding of people’s issues and her empathy for the marginalized and the disadvantaged. No wonder she is so popular among working classes. Even among party workers, she commands loyalty because of her habit of standing by them, enquiring after their family and reaching out a helping hand to them.

When the Shiv Sena fell out with the BJP after the 2019 Maharashtra elections, the Thackerays expressed their willingness to form a government without the BJP. I went to Baramati and called on Sharad Pawar. He had already spoken to Uddhav Thackeray and had persuaded him to take on the mantle of the Chief Minister. It, then, fell on me to get Soniaji’s approval.

When I met Soniaji in Delhi on the possibility of a coalition government in Maharashtra, she waved in the direction of the wall with portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and asked, “What will they feel if we go with Shiv Sena?”

I pointed out that the Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray had supported Indira Gandhi during the Emergency as well as the former Congress Chief Minister AR Antulay. It was necessary to keep the BJP out in Maharashtra and that it was the need of the hour to come together. She listened attentively, asked a few sharp questions and finally relented on condition that Shiv Sena would put aside its Hindutva agenda and function in line with the Constitution. She particularly mentioned the Preamble, I remember. This was accepted and finally, the MVA government was sworn in, in the state.

Businesslike, she wastes little time and She has nothing to prove any longer, says Balasaheb Thorat

I am in awe of her because of her skilful management of such a large party, her capacity to address national issues and her ability to deal with the party and party workers as an extended family. She has also developed and displayed excellent communication skills. She had taken over the task of leading the party under very trying circumstances and just years after her terrible personal loss. I marvel at her ability to remain calm despite the stress that her position inevitably brings with it.

What must also be put on record is that all her decisions as the UPA chairman, as the chairman of the National Advisory Council (NAC) and as Congress President, were guided by deep concern for the common man. The common man was at the centre of all decisions under her watch.

Legislations such as Right to Education Act guaranteed school admission for every child below the age of six. The Food Security Act aimed to keep all Indians from starvation. Other notable contributions were the Land Acquisition Act, the Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act. For his part, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh kept a tight rein on the economy, keeping it from being impacted by internal or external factors.

Personally, I am grateful for the confidence she placed on me and my work. I won her confidence with my work. She not only appointed me as a minister of an important department but also made me a member of the national working committee besides choosing me as the State President of the party and party leader in the legislature.

I hail from a family that has been loyal to Congress over generations. My grandfather participated in the Salt March with Mahatma Gandhi. My father has been a Congress loyalist right through. In 1978, when Sharad Pawar broke away from the party, my father learnt that his name was on the list of leaders who had joined Pawar. He immediately demanded that his name be struck off the list. He did not leave the party, dedicated as he was to the ideology of Congress. My grandfather attended the centenary celebrations of the founding of the party.

The Congress party has also given me a lot in return. After the Bharatiya Janata Party wave hit Maharashtra in 2014, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who hailed from my district – Ahmednagar and was the Leader of the Opposition, gravitated towards the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and finally left the party. On the other hand, I stuck it out with Congress, continuing my party work.

With two months to go for the state legislative assembly election in 2019, I was appointed the State President of the party. There were doubts that the Congress tally could go beyond a single digit. In the event, our hard work led to the party grabbing 44 seats. I’d organised massive election rallies at Latur and Osmanabad that drew overwhelming response. This done, I was given charge of the campaign for the legislative assembly elections in Gujarat, which I fulfilled successfully.

I have no doubt in my mind that given its deep roots across the country, Congress is best-placed to lead the united opposition.

(As told to Rahi Bhide, senior journalist and translated from Marathi by Abhir More)

(The writer is the State Revenue Minister of Maharashtra. This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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