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|September 15, 1999||
The Rediff Election Interview/ Surjeet Singh Barnala
'This is the toughest election I have ever faced'
Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers Surjeet Singh Barnala, who is contesting the Sangrur parliamentary seat in Punjab, predicts the National Democratic Alliance will return to power with a massive majority.
Barnala, who returned to the capital on Tuesday morning after a hectic campaign, told
Barnala, who returned to the capital on Tuesday morning after a hectic campaign, toldOnkar Singh that reports that his Akali Dal (Badal) party would split after the election were incorrect.
Is it true that you were trailing behind Simaranjit Singh Mann so badly that you had to seek Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's help hours before the campaign came to an end?
I don't know who gave you this impression that I was not doing well. Let me assure you that right from the word go my campaign had been on the right track. We were doing well but during an election one does not want to leave anything to chance. I thought it would be nice if Prime Minister Vajpayee addressed the last meeting in my constituency. If you are doing well, you should ensure you do even better. You leave something to chance and you end up losing.
Are you losing the election?
There is no question of my losing, though the contest is tough. Simaranjit Singh Mann, the other Akali candidate, has the support of Gurcharan Singh Tohra and the former Akal Takht jathedar, Bhai Ranjeet Singh. Even the CPI-M has put up a candidate with the support of the Congress party. Every election is tough, but this one is definitely tougher than the one I won last time.
Captain Amarinder Singh, president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, says the Congress will sweep the poll in the state this time?
Let Amarinder say what he wants. But I know for sure that the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance is going to win at least 10 out of the 13 seats in Punjab. The Congress is going to get only Amritsar, Ludhiana and Patiala.
Don't you think this election would be a referendum on Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's administration?
I would not say that. If the Akali Dal had not split, we would have bagged all 13 seats. But because of the division in Akali votes we will lose a few seats to the Congress. This has nothing to do with the popularity of the Congress or decline of the Akali Dal. If it has something to do with anyone, it is Gurcharan Singh Tohra.
But Tohra has lost elections consistently.
Yes, his party is also losing. But then he had never entered elections with the idea of winning seats. He had only one point programme and that was to defeat Badal's candidates. He may have achieved little success but in the process he has damaged his reputation. People in the state know how Tohra, who professes to be an ardent Akali, can work for the benefit of the Congress. All along we had a suspicion that Tohra was working for the Congress. Now he has proved beyond doubt that we were right.
Is there any hope of Badal and Tohra coming together after the poll?
At this stage it seems to be a remote possibility. The damage he has done to the Akali Dal is enormous and nobody would pardon him for that.
Is it true that some Akali leaders and even members of Badal's cabinet have started questioning his leadership?
These are rumours spread by vested interests. There is no threat to his leadership and Badal will complete his full term in office. He will continue to remain chief minister and the party president.
Do you think the NDA will come back to power?
I have absolutely no doubt that it will. The NDA will get at least 315 to 325 seats. The voters seem to have decided to give the verdict in Vajpayee's favour. I toured Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and some other places and the feedback I got was that the National Democratic Alliance will not just win, but win with a comfortable majority.
Is Sukhbir Badal going to lose Faridkot?
No. There was a time when he was not doing so well. But after the prime minister's rally in Moga and some last minute tie-ups, he should now win with a comfortable margin.
Did Badal shake hands with Amarinder Singh to ensure his son's victory and in turn promised support for the maharani of Patiala?
There is no question of Badal doing something as stupid as this.
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