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'Congress doesn't have the guts to project a young PM'

March 29, 2009 17:05 IST

Venkaiah Naidu, vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, talks to Aasha Khosa on the party's election strategy for southern states.

You are in charge of your party's campaign for southern states. What are your party's prospects there?

Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, along with Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshdweep, account for 132 seats in Parliament. Right now, we have just 18 out of these, all of them in Karnataka. In the past, the BJP has won as many as four seats in Tamil Nadu, six in Andhra Pradesh and one in Andaman and Nicobar. In Karnataka, in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections that the BJP fought on its own, its vote share was 18 per
cent.

This election, I can see an upsurge in favour of the BJP in these states. The non-Congress voter seems to be favouring the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections as against the regional parties. I visualise a breakthrough in Tamil Nadu and Kerala this time. Overall, the BJP will cross its all-time-high score of 30 seats from the region.

But how is this possible without any political allies and strategic alliances?

We are talking to some smaller parties in Tamil Nadu. These are from non-Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam and non-All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam fronts. But our real hope is that in the coming days, there will be a realignment of political forces between these two major political fronts, which will help us. In other states, we are contesting on our own. There is a growing perception among the people that the National Democratic Alliance symbolises stability of politics and governance.

Episodes like Varun Gandhi's attack on the minorities do not support the belief that the BJP is becoming a moderate party.

The BJP as a party has clearly distanced itself from what Gandhi is supposed to have said. We also condemn his purported speech. It's only an individual's view and not that of a political party. Everyone seems to be fussing over Gandhi's speech. Our stand is, let a police inquiry clinch the case.

But we are not ready to take moral lessons from the pseudo-secularists on this pretext. These are the same people who hobnobbed with the Muslim League, which was instrumental in the partition of the country. These are the people who asked for the release of AN Madani (leader of the People's Democratic Party) in Kerala, although police and intelligence agencies had not absolved him of criminal charges.

Interestingly, the Communist Party of India - Marxist in Kerala has ignored the claim of the Communist Party of India over the Ponnani seat in Malappuram and has decided to give it to Madani.

However, it seems the BJP did not work hard to seek alliances with regional parties this time.

In southern states, we are on our own. But we are confident that our tally will improve. We do not feel threatened by the so-called Third Front as it will remain a mirage. The Left parties, which are trying to create this front, are slippery allies. Our calculation is that the Left will eventually go with the Congress to keep the BJP out of power. Besides,
this front has no leader, no programme. It's like a parking lot where people park their cars till they are ready to go their respective ways. In this case, after the elections, some cars will flock to the United Progressive Alliance and some to the National Democratic Alliance.

How did the BJP in Orissa not get a whiff of the Biju Janata Dal's  plan (to snap ties with the BJP)?

Naveen Patnaik's advisors have not given him sound advice on this. However, the BJP had tried its best to retain the coalition.

Even your well-wishers say the BJP does not appear to exude the confidence of a sure winner?

Yes, some people have rightly observed this. But the fact is that over-confidence is never good for a political party before an election. We had to learn it the hard way in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. That time, we were confident of winning more than 300 seats for the NDA, but it did not happen. We had thought that having a job well done, people were bound to vote for the NDA. This time, however, we are consciously modest about our prospects and do not want to boast.

No single issue is dominating the election campaign this time. What is your view on this?

I believe that though there are a plethora of issues -- inflation, terrorism, farmers' suicides -- which are emerging in the campaign. The issue that will decide the result is the divisive agenda of the United Progressive Alliance government. The UPA government communalised even infrastructure-creation. In the Congress manifesto, the party has supported communal reservations.

Can you divide health, water, irrigation facilities on the basis of religion? The Congress and the UPA aim at ghettoisation of communities. This may not be talked about, but this is the real issue in the minds of people. In this scenario, with our NDA partners, we can have a clear majority.

What is the basis of this confidence?

We started our campaign six months before the Lok Sabha elections. We have a headstart in launching the election campaign and projecting our leader. The BJP could firm up its alliances well in time and there is no confusion in the party, as against the UPA, which is left with virtually no allies except the Nationalist Congress Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

We have launched a positive campaign. We hope to improve the tally in BJP-ruled states like Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, NDA-ruled states like Bihar, and even in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. In Madhya Pradesh, where
the party has reached the peak, we will maintain that position. Delhi is also likely to be better as we have just one member in Parliament from there at present.

Your prime ministerial candidate is 81 years old, while the Congress is projecting its young leadership alongside Manmohan Singh. Is this not a major disadvantage for the BJP?

I do not want to name anyone, but Advaniji is surely the healthiest of the leaders in India today. He has already toured the entire country on his Vijay Sankalp rallies. He is energetic and experienced. Bharat ko chalana koi bacchon ka khel nahin hai (governing a country like India is no child's play). The leader has to tackle multi-dimensional problems, be it border disputes, water disputes with neighbours and within the country, economic matters, regional and ethnic tensions, terrorism, etc.

Then, if young people should rule India, why does the Congress not have the guts to project a young prime minister? The problem is that for Congress, youth only means dynasty. This is going to be a major election issue in our campaign.

Has the BJP been able to resolve the tension between Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley?

Normally, I do not speak on internal matters of the party, but I have no hesitation in admitting that there was a real problem this time. We have tried to resolve it. Arun Jaitley holds a very important responsibility in the party and he is discharging it. The meetings of the central election committee are over as the BJP has declared about 30 candidates for the Lok Sabha. His continued absence from the meetings has become irrelevant.

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