Will there be a decisive verdict in the Lok Sabha election this time?
No. It is not going to favour any one front, but I expect the Bharatiya Janata Party to emerge as the single largest party. I don't find the Congress positioned comfortably in any of the states except Kerala.
The BJP can claim to be comfortable in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, etc. So, they have better prospects to emerge as the largest single party.
As far as the alliance partners are concerned, the Congress has only Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The DMK is anticipated to fare badly. But the BJP allies like the Akali Dal and the Janata Dal-United will do well.
What kind of post-poll scenario do you see?
It looks like post-poll alliances are going to matter. I think in every alliance, everyone is free to travel wherever they want! That is the idea now. Every party is aiming to have a chunk of MPs with them so that they have the bargaining power.
Take, for instance, the Third Front. The Communists will not be averse, whatever they say, to supporting a Congress government to keep the BJP out. The Congress may not be averse to supporting someone from the third, fourth or the fifth front in order to keep the BJP out.
People like J Jayalalithaa, Chandrababu Naidu may be willing to support the BJP. Even Naveen Patnaik, if he needs the support of the BJP in the state assembly, he may support the party at the Centre.
That possibility will arise only if the BJP is the single largest party...
Yes, it will depend on the numbers. If the BJP gets around 170 seats, they will be secular. If they get less than 150, they will be communal as far as the other parties are concerned. 150 will be a communal number and 150 and above will be a secular number!
Do you expect the BJP to be secular after the elections?
I think the BJP has the chance to be secular. I am not very sure. They may fall somewhere between the communal and secular number also. (Laughs.)
Do you expect the Third Front to play a major role after the election? Or, will it be a spoilsport?
Jayalalithaa may do well. Chandrababu Naidu may do well. H D Deve Gowda may not. The Communists are going to lose seats. Who else is there in the Third Front?
Will Mayawati have a say after the election? She is aiming to be the prime minister.
It will be very difficult. Her candidature will not get support from many quarters. Many parties would like to keep her out because she is very abrasive, and highly ambitious. She is not the right kind of person to inspire confidence in allies. I don't see her emerging as the prime ministerial candidate.
How do you describe Rahul Gandhi? In the last election also, the media said he would turn around the prospects of the Congress but it did not happen? Will he be successful this time?
I don't think he is a vote catcher yet. But he seems to be quite a sensible person; the way he talks about things seems to be balanced and sensible. But he is not a vote catcher. Hereafter, his voice will be heard increasingly within the party.
You have watched and analysed so many political personalities in the last several decades. What exactly is lacking in him as a vote catcher?
He has not been in politics as yet. He doesn't seem to have made up his mind. A man must have ambitions to succeed in politics. Only then, he will be able to communicate it to the others. If you are not ambitious, I will not be inspired by you.
Do you see those qualities in Priyanka Gandhi?
I don't think we have enough material to judge her.
How do you compare the Gandhi of the Congress and the Gandhi of the BJP?
Definitely, Rahul GandHi seems to be more balanced and sober of the two. Varun Gandhi, perhaps sees that to capture media attention and THE public eye, he has to say extreme things and strike extreme postures. That is what he is doing. Rahul Gandhi is not doing any such thing.
Will the extreme postures help Varun Gandhi come centre-stage?
I don't think so. It will help him get some newspaper space, that's all. In the election, he may be able to gather crowds.
You mean a politician has to have balanced views.
Even if he loses his balance, it must be a calculated loss of balance. It cannot be wild.
Are you impressed with Rahul Gandhi?
Instead of saying, I am impressed, I would say, it is worth watching him. He seems to be steadily moving to take the leadership of the Congress. I feel that he is willing to take his own time.
I can also say this, coming from a family which has been leading the Congress for so many years, and the Congressmen being the sycophants they are, always ready to accept him as the leader and their prime minister and all that, the person requires a lot of self control and maturity to resist attempts to project himself. That quality, he seems to have. That is good.
If the National Democratic Alliance comes to power, do you see Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi playing a major role in national politics?
That will be the BJP's desire. But much will depend on the kind of allies they get to form the government, that is, if they form the government. Some of them may say, don't bring Modi now.,P>There are people who may support the BJP, but without Modi. In that case, they will find it difficult. Otherwise, the BJP would like to induct him at the Centre.
I think he will play a major role only sometime later. Some years back, the BJP was an untouchable. Later, people like George Fernandes, M Karunanidhi, etc joined hands with the BJP. They were all together. Similarly, this also will get diluted.
I don't think Modi will be confined to Gujarat. Ultimately, he will emerge as a national leader.
Let us now talk about Tamil Nadu. Of late, we have seen one front sweeping the elections. Do you see any such possibility this time?
If a sweep happens, it could be a sweep for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. That is, if people see Vijayakanth as a vote splitter, and do not vote for him.
Will the youth of rural Tamil Nadu see him that way? They are really swayed by him.
I do not know. If his tally doesn't go beyond his assembly votes, then there could be a sweep for the AIADMK.
Why is it that Vijayakanth grabs only the AIADMK votes?
That is the anti-government votes. The pro-government votes will go to the DMK. Without him, it would have favoured the AIADMK. Now, he will split the anti-DMK votes.
When we talk to people, we get the feeling that there may not be a sweep this time, and it will be like 25:15.
I don't know. That seems to be the general feeling that it will be 25:15 and that is thanks to Vijayakanth.
Like Rahul Gandhi said the other day, do you see Jayalalithaa and Naidu going the Congress way?
Naidu will not do it. His politics, which is anti-Congress in Andhra Pradesh, will be terribly affected if he does so. He cannot vacate it.
As far as Jayalaithaa is concerned, if the Congress party assures her that they will withdraw support to the DMK government, then, she will be ready to support the Congress. If the Congress support goes, the DMK government will fall.
Is it because of a lack of leadership in Tamil Nadu that the Congress is dying here?
There has been erosion in Congress votes from Indira Gandhi's time not only in Tamil Nadu but everywhere. Again and again, she decimated the state leadership so that she will not have any competitor there. With the result, the state Congress became a rubber stamp of the national Congress.
The local Congress leader has to look to Delhi for everything. If you ask him what day it is, he would refer to the high command and reply.
Here, he is compared with the leaders of the other parties. For example, here Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa are masters of their own parties while this man is less than a clerk.
Indira Gandhi was able to manage as she had wide appeal. Sonia Gandhi doesn't have it. Narasimha Rao did not have it. And still they are following the method followed by Indira Gandhi, of keeping pygmies as leaders in every state.
In Tamil Nadu, every politician is talking about the Sri Lankan issue. Do you think it is an issue for the people of Tamil Nadu?
No. This is not an electoral issue for the people of Tamil Nadu. I have been saying this from the very beginning. After all the noises were made, I asked my (Thuglaq) correspondents also to ask people specifically and they also told me this is not an issue.
You take Jaya TV for instance. After Jayalalithaa speaks about a separate Eelam, their reporters go around asking people, why do you want to vote the AIADMK? They give all sorts of reasons and none of them, not even one voice said it is because of the Sri Lankan issue.
Do you agree with Jayalaithaa talking about a separate Eelam?
No, I don't agree at all. No government is going to do it. The Congress, the BJP and the Communists will be against it. And, it will not be done. I don't agree with the Tamil Nadu politicians at all.
Then, Pakistan can say, they want to liberate Kashmir or divide it as a Hindu Kashmir and a Muslim Kashmir.
Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj.