In contrast to those who predict that the coming election will produce yet another hung Lok Sabha, United Front convener and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu foresees a clear mandate for the Front. It is his opinion that in the battle between the U.F. and the BJP, the Congress(I) will lose heavily. The BJP, too, will suffer setbacks on account of its damaged image. The Telugu Desam president spoke to Dasu Kesava Rao in Hyderabad on Sunday, December 7. Excerpts from the interview:
The country is going for a snap poll that few wanted. Who is to blame?
It is true, nobody wanted elections. The Congress(I) is mainly to be blamed for the crisis that led to the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. The BJP also played politics, using money power. The U.F. was formed mainly with the objective of preventing a communal party from coming to power and to safeguard the secular character of the nation. The Congress had then offered unconditional support.
Why did the Congress(I) try to create problems for you?
The Congress has a record of destabilising non-Congress Governments. They have done this to Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar and more recently to Deve Gowda and now to Gujral. For them, political interests are more important than national interests. We tried our best to reason with them.
The Jain Commission came in handy as an excuse. For five years when they were in power, Congress leaders did little to expedite the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. They want to blame the U.F. Government, withdraw support and somehow get back to power.
Would you comment on the findings of the Interim Report of the Jain Commission?
The findings tend to hurt the sentiments of a whole community. The reference to a nexus between the LTTE and the Tamils (of Tamil Nadu) is sweeping. The scars of Operation Bluestar and Babri Masjid are still fresh. Even today, we are paying the price for hurting the sentiments of people. (The Chief Minister cites the December 6 incidents in Hyderabad in which two persons were killed.) It was not fair to prejudge and damn the DMK. Let us wait for the judgment. I am amused by the haste with which the Congress Parliamentary Party took a stand on the Jain Commission - without reading the report - and got it endorsed by the Working Committee. It is their adamant and uncompromising stand that the U.F. should dump the DMK that is mainly responsible for the fall of the U.F. Government and the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
Sitaram Kesri has blamed you for the failure of the talks between the U.F. and the Congress to resolve the crisis.
Till the last minute I tried to secure a consensus in order to save the Government. We had earlier sacrificed Deve Gowda in the interests of saving the U.F. Government. This time we said the Congress demand could not be conceded as it would hurt the unity and integrity of the country. They did not listen.
How do you visualise the political scenario after the elections? Who is your Enemy No.1 - the Congress or the BJP?
The scenario will be quite clear. The fight is essentially between the BJP and the U.F. In this game, the Congress will be the biggest loser. We are confident that we will form the government with a clear majority of our own.
What is the basis of your optimism? The preliminary poll surveys appear to indicate that the BJP will improve its position.
No, the BJP has received a setback. Their vote bank has eroded. It has reached a saturation point. The party image suffered badly after the U.P. incidents and the Delhi drama. They have taken 93 Ministers in U.P. - some of them have criminal backgrounds and are defectors. The recent pronouncements of Vajpayee and Advani have also not enhanced the prestige of the BJP. As for the Congress(I), they are a totally demoralised lot. It is clear that they are interested only in power, not in moral values or safeguarding national interests like secularism.
The U.F. managed to stay together throughout the crisis. What is the secret of this unity?
Right from the beginning, the 13-party alliance has been united despite heavy odds. It is true there are differences within the U.F. about how we look at certain issues. But we never allowed these differences to unsettle our basic relationship. Ours is a real coalition. Over this period, there has been better cohesion and better understanding and appreciation of each other. This strengthened our ties. That is the secret.
What will be the main campaign plank of the U.F. in the coming elections? Will there be new allies?
We have to sit and discuss these issues among ourselves and finalise our position.
Back home in Andhra Pradesh, what are the Telugu Desam's prospects?Very good.
How do you intend to deal with the anti-establishment sentiment that a party in power must face? The situation with regard to power supply is not heartening.
It is true the situation is not very happy. I have not taken any decision without informing the people in advance. We are producing high-cost power and giving the people power at low prices. Where am I to get the money from?
I am confident that I shall be able to explain our compulsions and convince the people of our stand. About anti-establishment sentiment, I am myself fighting the establishment. I am trying to reform the bureaucratic system. I travel to the districts regularly and tell the administration that it is not measuring up to my expectations or those of the people. These matters take time.