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'What an Insensitive Govt We Have': NCP MP Supriya Sule Talks MVA, BJP & 2024

Supriya Sule has been appointed the new NCP working president by Sharad Pawar just weeks after his resignation bid.

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Anchor: Eshwar

Camera: Mythreyee Iyer

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam, Mohd Irshad

"It's not about the Opposition, it's the reality of this country. Today price rise is a huge issue, unemployment is a huge issue. The way in which the economy is headed is a big challenge ahead of us for 2024," said Supriya Sule while speaking to The Quint just days ahead of her appointment as new Working President of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

A Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra's Baramati, as astute parliamentarian, and one of the tallest leaders of the state, Sule, along with Praful Patel, was elevated as the working president in an anouncement made by party supremo Sharad Pawar on Saturday, 10 June.

In a conversation with The Quint, Sule opened up about her father's resignation bid last month, the road to the 2024 elections, the wrestlers' protests, and more.

On the day Mr Pawar chose to resign, we saw what the cadre did, how they reacted. What was your first reaction when he said that he wants to step down?

I was surprised, disappointed.

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Did you try to talk him out of it?

No, it was his decision so I didn't attempt anything.

There are constant reports that there are some in the party who are disgruntled. A few are facing cases from the central agencies as well. Is there a section in the NCP that is willing to join hands with the BJP or leave the party ranks?

Well, I don't know about disgruntlement because I have not heard and I have not read about disgruntlement. I don't know who your sources are. And number two, about agencies – everybody who is in the Opposition is targeted by the BJP government. So, this is nothing new. And data speaks that 95% people who are targeted are all from the Opposition. Also, anybody from the opposition who joins the BJP gets a clean chit. This is what has been happening for several years. So, I'm not surprised of these kind of things because it's happening everywhere, pan-India.

There is a lot of back and forth happening in the Maha Vikas Aghadi on seat-sharing, the talks are on between the senior leaders. But we see certain leaders of several parties going and staking claim on seats or publicly giving statements. Do you think there could be some issues or some seats that might have a potential of becoming dealbreakers in the future? 

Not at all. Why would it? Listen, it's a democracy. You have to discuss, we have to debate, we have to argue. It's a good thing. Everybody should speak with an open heart in a democracy, what's wrong with that? This is not oppression where people will be told that things will be certain way. Every political party has some ambitions, what's wrong with expressing those? It is natural.

Organisationally, the NCP is the strongest party. It has been said publicly that nobody is going to play the role of the 'Big Brother'. But when it comes to it, how far will the NCP be willing to concede? For example, if there is any disagreement over a particular seat?

I don't like the word concede. Nobody concedes, we are a team and then we are good team players and you will see it. It's always easy to back off, but only a true leader takes everybody along. So, leadership is about taking people along, not breaking dialogues.

We have seen a lot of right-wing rallies happening in Maharashtra in the past few months. There have been videos and visuals we have seen where there are children in these rallies. There are hate slogans being raised by and in the presence of BJP leaders in these rallies. Do you think some of that is an attempt to change the social fabric of Maharashtra and bring up issues which are not really the core issues of the state?

This is happening pan-India. The BJP is really hiding behind price rise. They don't want unemployment to be discussed. They don't want the core challenges and their bad judgement calls and decisions to come out. Hence, they bring out these kind of issues. It's very unfortunate, but it'll hurt the country in the long run.

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How do you see the allegations against the BJP that they're always trying to spread communal divide?

But they are. I don't see it, it's a fact. It's not an allegation, it's a reality.

And another or, you know, aftermath of it is when we know your views on boycott Bollywood and you have put them out publicly in the past. But when a film like 'The Kerala Story' releases, which the makers of the film admit to having factual inaccuracies in India's courts but that film is passed by the censor board, it is promoted by the ruling dispensation. Where does the boycott stand come in there? Do you think there should be a ban on such films as a political stand?

I think, you know, we are discussing too much. Film industry should be left alone. Second, creativity should be able to be left alone – this is my personal view. And politics is not about filmmaking. I'm not a filmmaker, I'm a policymaker. So, my core work is policymaking, not filmmaking.

So you think politicians should not interfere in any capacity?

I think politicians should not use Bollywood for anything. Bollywood is full of talent. They are here to entertain us. And Bollywood is not only about India, they're global citizens and globally, India's best ambassador is Bollywood. So, why would any politician or any political party, first of all, talk against Bollywood or beyond? I feel that's what's happened to the democracy in this country. It's an industry. It's a robust industry. It's doing exceptionally well. It's a big job creator. And internationally, Bollywood only gains for India. So, why would any dispensation, especially people in power, want to hurt Bollywood, which works so hard?

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This is particularly about Maharashtra. Your party has particularly been vocal about the inter-faith marriages committee that has been set up by the government. I know that there have been efforts from the party and demonstrations by the party against the same. Once again, is this an issue which is being cooked up by the ruling dispensation?

Policymakers are not marriage bureaus, we make policies to improve people's lives. We can't interfere and go into people's lives. So why do we need a policy for that? Whoever wants to marry whoever, they should be able to. They should be happy, serve the country, serve their parents, serve their in-laws. So, I see no reason for going into people's homes, it is horrible, it is awful.

Speaking about democracy, we saw the inauguration of the new Parliament. We heard you speaking to the media, and you said you were saying that you were pained that the Opposition is not there. There is a viewpoint that the Opposition should not have completely boycotted the inauguration because at the end of the day, the building belongs to the people of India. What is your thought on it?

Of course it is an incomplete inauguration because democracy is about Opposition and people in power. If there is no Opposition attending, it's not a democracy, it's oppression, it's not democracy. So, in a vibrant democracy – why is India, known as a vibrant democracy for the last 70 years is because we have a vibrant Opposition. It's so important in any democracy.

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And a few kilometres away on the same day, we saw our wrestlers getting manhandled and dragged on the streets of the national capital. As a woman MP, how do you feel?

It's not about a woman or a man. This is not a gender issue. This is a humanitarian issue. If our daughters or I say, our sports superstars have got us Olympic medals are going to be ill-treated by our police, it's shameful. I condemn that entire action. And my point is, why hasn't anybody from the government reached out to them? In a democracy, isn't dialogue the best way? We could have arguments, we could have disagreements, we must have disagreements, but at least you have to consider 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao'. What happened to that? Our daughters who made India proud globally – should the police treat them in this manner?

Is this how you treat your daughters of our country? And it's not just about the achievers. Nobody's daughters can be treated like that.

Does it hurt you or anger you?

Of course, I condemn it. What's wrong is wrong. Even if we were in power, I would have condemned it openly. Shame on this BJP government that is treating our daughters like this. Nobody deserves this – no daughter, no citizen deserves to be treated like this. Why only gender? And what about these girls? We are into Lakshmi, we are into Parvati, we are into Annapurna – we worship women in our country, this is our culture. We respect our mother, we call it 'Maa' Ganga. We are in Maharashtra, we refer to Chhatrapati Shivaj's mother as Maa Saheb, we have Ahilyabai Holkar, Savitribai Phule. How many examples can I give you? We were taught since we were born to respect the women of our home and the elders of our home. And these are youngsters. We need to love them, hug them, hear them out. What an insensitive BJP government do we have!

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They have even threatened to immerse their medals in the same Ganga.

How sad! It's most painful! It's very, very unfortunate. And India is internationally getting a bad name. Internationally, it's hurting India's image. And nobody is willing to hear them.

Coming to the opposition – how do you analyse the victory of Congress in Karnataka? Do you see it as a sign of change ahead of 2024?

Of course, people are disappointed. '40% wali sarkar', all these dirty tricks that the government did, it's a complete failure of the government in Karnataka and it'll go you'll notice. State after state you'll see different results.

What do you think are the issues for the Opposition that should become poll planks for 2024?

It's not about the Opposition, it's the reality of this country. Today, price rise is a huge issue, unemployment is a huge issue. The way in which the economy is headed is a big challenge ahead of us. So, in 2024 – all the commitments that this government made about black money, what is really the outcome of demonetisation – there are so many issues. But the biggest, if you ask me, is unemployment and inflation. Price rise is a huge issue. People are restless. Look at the price of cylinder today. Look at the price of petrol, diesel cost of a book, of basic food – it is so expensive. Everybody – all the stakeholders of India, citizens of India are suffering because of it.

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You interact with so many people who these issues directly affect, like, for example the price of gas. What is your sense? Why does then the party keep coming back to power, at least at the centre?

It has only come twice. Price rise was not such a big issue back then but this time it is. And you will see the numbers will go down this time. The BJP cannot do as well as they think they are because really, India is going through a challenging time and data speaks for itself. It's not what I see just as an opponent. I will praise what's good but not what's bad for the country. That's what democracy is all about. You have to speak the truth.

Do you think the Modi factor will work for the third time despite these issues?

Time will tell but I believe that the numbers for the BJP are going to be considerably going down.

Both in states and the Centre...?

Yes, of course. States they will lose more and more which you will see in the next few months which is unfolding. Why they are not conducting any elections in Maharashtra is purely because their surveys are not showing favourable results. Look at the surveys that television channels and newspapers are showing, it's not showing the best for the BJP at all right now.

Do you think that is one of the reasons that BMC elections?

Yes, of course, clearly!

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