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September 10, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ A R Antulay

'Pawar has no hold over Maharashtra'

For the first time in his political career, former Maharashtra chief minister Abdul Rehman Antulay has changed his parliamentary constituency, from Kulaba to Aurangabad in Marathwada. Critics say he was running scared, since Sharad Pawar can be counted upon to do his utmost to defeat him, and that Antulay, to be on the safe side, has plumped for a constituency with a significant number of Muslims.

Originally a bete noire of Pawar, he joined hands with the latter when the Maratha took on Sitaram Kesri for the Congress president's post. This new-found friendship lasted, however, only till Pawar's anti-Sonia revolt.

In his opinion now, Pawar will be finished after this general election, and it will be the Congress that will form the government in Maharashtra. He also poohpoohed the suggestion that he is contesting from Aurangabad as it has a sizeable Muslim population. "I have always won the Kulaba seat where the population of Muslims is hardly eight per cent."

In an interview with Syed Firdaus Ashraf, he speaks of a Sonia wave, just like there was an Indira wave in 1980.

What will be the post-election scenario in Maharashtra?

The scenario is 100 per cent in favour of the Congress. In the beginning, when Sharad Pawar formed his party, I thought he might get five seats. But now, I don't think he will win more than two seats.

And what will be the outcome in the assembly election?

Pawar will get between 35 and 40 seats. And the BJP-Sena, thanks to their misdeeds, will lose heavily in this election. The wave is in favour of the Congress.

On what basis do you say Pawar's party will not do well?

You see, he has no hold over Maharashtra, his entire hold has been created by media. If he had any hold, he would not have won only two seats in the 1980 parliamentary election, when he had the support of Y B Chavan. And let me remind you, the first time the Congress lost power in Maharashtra was when Pawar was chief minister.

Are you saying Sonia's foreign origin does not matter in Maharashtra?

Maharashtra's culture is the culture of nationalism and patriotism, and the people all are with Soniaji. This is no issue for them.

But Marathas have historically opposed foreign rule, since the days of Chhatrapati Shivaji?

(Angrily) What do you mean by a foreigner? It is a very wrong way to frame such a question. A person who is an Indian under the Constitution, can she be a foreigner? You shouldn't pose such questions.

But don't you think Marathas, the dominant community here, will feel proud to be associate themselves with Pawar because he too is a Maratha?

I told you earlier, the Marathas are a patriotic people. They know that Pawar has joined hands with communal forces.

Do you see Pawar joining hands with the BJP after the election?

He has already cut a deal with the BJP. He thinks by this his nephew (Ajit Pawar) will become chief minister of Maharashtra and he can become the deputy prime minister of India. But his dreams will be shattered because Maharashtrians are a very mature people.

What issues are you highlighting in your constituency?

The national agenda of the Congress, the state agenda and my own agenda for Aurangabad. I have issued a booklet on this, and all sections of society will be taken into confidence before taking any major decision for this place.

Why did you change your constituency from Kulaba to Aurangabad? Your opponents say you were running scared.

My opponents are not going to elect me, so let them say whatever they want. Congress leaders from Aurangabad and Jalna came to me and requested me to contest from this place. So I came here. It is not that I ran away from Kulaba. God is with me so I don't have to bother about my opponents.

Your opponents also claim you are contesting from here because Aurangabad has a major Muslim population. How far is that true?

(Angrily) Look here. All my life, since 1957 I have been elected to the assembly. And for the last 14 years, I have been winning the Lok Sabha elections from a place where there are only eight per cent Muslims. You must know my antecedents before asking such questions.

Are you fighting the Sena-BJP or the NCP?

Sharad Pawar does not exist in this election.

Who will be the next Congress CM?

The high command will decide. That is the usual routine.

Opinion polls indicate that the BJP-Sena will win in Maharashtra. What do you have to say about that?

The Opposition always predicts such things before the results are out. If they don't do so, who will predict such things? Go and ask the common man, they all are with Soniaji and there is a Sonia wave in the country, as there was an Indira wave in 1980.

But in 1998, when Sonia Gandhi campaigned for the Congress, nothing happened...

Look here, it was a different matter altogether. Had she not campaigned then the Congress would have won only 50 seats. The Congress was fast disintegrating, and unity only came about after she decided to campaign. There was an exodus and she stopped it. Moreover, people didn't expect her to become the prime minister because she was not a contender then. Today, people will vote overwhelmingly for the Congress because they want her to become the prime minister of India.

But the Congress has no hold in Bihar and UP, which has the largest number of seats?

That is wrong. You see, after the Babri Masjid demolition, the Muslims turned anti-Congress. But today, they are with Soniaji. They know she will not discriminate against any religion, caste or creed.

So you think Muslims will not vote for the Samajwadi Party.

The SP in Maharashtra is finished and their leadership has disintegrated.

But what about UP Muslims?

Muslims didn't like it when Mulayam joined hands with Sharad Pawar. They dislike Pawar's duplicity and double talk. In fact, I feel Soniaji should thank god that Pawar was expelled.

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