He speaks to Shobha Warrier on the post election scenario.
Everybody predicted a close race between the UPA and NDA, but the results turned out to be totally different. What are the reasons behind such a decisive verdict?
I am surprised people have decided that the Congress should be again voted to power. I expected the BJP to do well at the national level because I thought people would be concerned about the corruption that was fostered by the UPA government, its softness in handling terrorism, its lethargy and perhaps its disinterest in obtaining details from the Swiss banks about Indian holdings and its misuse of CBI, almost making it a wing of the ruling party. I thought these things would go against the Congress, but it has not happened that way.
I think the BJP did put the question before the people that whether they wanted Manmohan Singh as the PM or Advani as the PM. The people have said in very clear terms that they wanted Manmohan Singh as the prime minister.
In hindsight, do you feel Advani calling Manmohan Singh a weak prime minister backfired?
These things do not count while people are voting. The thing is, people preferred Manmohan Singh to Advani as prime minister.
Each state has its own reasons and it was a collection of reasons.
How do you look at the debacle of the Third Front?
I welcome the debacle of the Third Front. I had predicted it and I welcome it. That is one aspect of the election which has vindicated my stand (laughs) I have always been saying that the Third Front is a non-starter, a roadside eatery and all that.
Its debacle helped the Congress and not the BJP because in most states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala the BJP has no presence.
I am glad that the central government that is going to take charge will not depend on the Left for survival. I have always held that if the Left is the future in India, India has no future left. They would make real governance impossible. They would even harass the prime minister on many issues particularly relating to the US by taking an impossible stance.
The importance of regional parties is almost nil now....
Yes, the government would not have to depend on regional parties. That is a good thing. Even allies like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cannot go beyond a limit in applying pressure because somebody else is ready at the door to come in. These are all some of the good things of the result.
Will you give credit to any one individual for the Congress victory?
I cannot say it is due to any one individual like Manmohan Singh or Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi. It won't be fair. The party has done well.
There are various reasons in various states. In Andhra, Chiranjeevi split the votes to the advantage of the Congress. Otherwise, Chandrababu Naidu would have fared well.
In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee's alliance helped the Congress. More than the Congress, it was Bannerjee who won in West Bengal. That is going to be a problem later! She may develop into a problem at the Centre. But the Congress has to do with her now.
In Kerala, of course, the Congress did well and it was expected.
So, the reasons vary from state to state and you can't pinpoint any one individual.
But in UP, the 21 seats won by the Congress is credited to Rahul Gandhi alone.
Rahul Gandhi has definitely come out in the elections as somebody who is liked by the people. It is a good beginning for him not only in UP but all over India.
Somehow in my mind, I contrast him with Varun Gandhi. Though coming from the same stoke, Varun Gandhi has fashioned himself after Raj Thackeray and tried to gain media attention by saying all things which one should not say, by trying to be virulent.
Rahul Gandhi seems to be much more sophisticated and balanced.
When Rajiv Gandhi came to power, people had the same expectations from him, but later, it is said the system engulfed him. Do you think something of that sort will happen to his son?
I don't think so. Because in my opinion, if Rajiv Gandhi had come back to power in 1991 but for the dastardly killing by the LTTE, he would have been a much better prime minister than earlier. I had some interactions with him and I thought that he was emerging as a very desirable type of politician.
Even Advani had a high opinion of him.
When we go to villages and talk to the villagers, we see that it is not national issues that matter to them but very, very local problems. In his analysis, the BBC Mark Tully also said the same thing. But a national party has been chosen over local parties. How do you explain this?
You look at it from the state's point of view and I say it is a collection of results. Even now, local issues only mattered.
In Kerala, people were dissatisfied with the Left. The advantage went to the Congress.
In Andhra, vote splitting helped the Congress.
In West Bengal, people were getting disillusioned with the Communists. So, their vote went to Mamata Banerjee and the Congress.
In Rajasthan, people voted for the Congress in the assembly election and the same trend was maintained.
In Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh people went with the BJP and the same trend is maintained.
In Maharashtra, the vote splitting by Raj Thackeray helped the Congress-Nationalist Congress alliance.
In Tamil Nadu, do you think Vijayakanth spoilt the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's chances?
Yes, in Tamil Nadu, Vijayakanth splitting votes helped the DMK-Congress. But for it, the AIADMK would have swept the polls. He had not obtained deposits in many constituencies, but effectively spoilt the chances of the AIADMK in 15 constituencies.
The room for suspicion is in Vaiko's constituency. How is it that while counting, the votes increased by 23,000 more than the polled votes? There is a register of polled votes. When it is counted, it is much more than that. It means there was rigging also. Those who rigged must have gone overboard in Vaiko's constituency!
What will happen to Jayalalithaa now?
It must have been quite disappointing for her, but she must gather her spirits and work with the assembly in her mind.
In the assembly election, don't you think the Vijayakanth factor will play an even more major role?
Yes. She has been ignoring it and the time has come for her to reckon with Vijayakanth.
What do you say about the fact that all the parties -- Jayalalithaa, the Pattali Makkal Katchi and Vaiko -- that went overboard on the Sri Lankan issue were defeated?
What about Thirumalvalavan? He was one of the most cantankerous on the issue and still he has done well. Karunanidhi also at the last moment called Prabhakaran his friend and said that he was not a terrorist. Still the people voted.
The fact is, the Sri Lankan issue was a not a poll issue. Yes, people were concerned, but it was not a poll issue for them. I would say Jayalalithaa wasted her time and breath on it.
Where do you see India and Tamil Nadu in particular going from here?
The DMK taking care of the leader's family at the cost of the state will continue.
At the national level, I feel Rahul Gandhi's emerging influence may do good to the Congress. He could develop into a desirable type of a leader.
This verdict is good for the country as there will be meaningful governance now. The government will not be looking over its shoulders all the time as to who will run away and who will topple and be at the beck and call of the Leftists. The coalition partners will have to behave now.
Another very good development is the two national parties, between them getting more than 320 seats.