Pramod Mahajan, general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the man in charge of the BJP's election campaign in Rajasthan, is confident that the BJP will not only return to power in Jaipur but also assume power in Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, which go to the polls simultaneously.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in Hotel Amer Clarks in Jaipur, Mahajan said the party would ride on the anti-incumbency wave and defeat the Congress governments in all these states.
But he refused to term the elections in the four states as a semi-final and claimed that the general elections would be held in September 2004 as scheduled, not before, even if the BJP wins all four states going to the polls on December 1.
"We will have a 4-0 lead over the Congress after the elections," Mahajan predicted. Excerpts:
You have told the media that the BJP is going to score a hundred seats , maybe even more. What makes you so confident?
In the last 10 days of our campaign, the response that we saw of the people of the state to the issues raised by the party, particularly at the public meetings at various places throughout the state, the discussions we had with the grassroots workers, makes us feel that in an assembly of 200 seats in Rajasthan we have already crossed the 100 mark and are heading for a majority.
Are you saying the BJP will get between 112 and 115 seats?
I cannot give an exact number. I have said the BJP will cross the 100 mark for sure. How many more, we will have to wait and see. Though it is difficult to venture any guess, I think it should between 110 and 115.
But even when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was chief minister, not once but twice, you did not have a majority. Do you think things have changed since?
Even in those days we had almost reached the majority. Once we had 93 and the other time we had 95. We will now get an additional 15 to 20 seats. You must remember that at that time we were the ruling party and had to face the anti-incumbency factor and naturally we were limited to less than 100. [Chief Minister Ashok] Gehlot now faces the anti-incumbency factor while [BJP's chief ministerial candidate] Vasundhara Raje has a clean slate and this is what is giving us the additional seats.
Did you miss Shekhawat in the election campaign?
This is the first election in the state where Shekhawatji was not available to the party for campaigning because he holds a constitutional position. This was a setback for us. At the same time the people of Rajasthan know that we have made him vice-president of this country. If time permits and the BJP gets a majority, Shekhawatji could well be the President of India in the years to come. The people of the state are naturally happy because the chief minister of the state is a lesser post than vice-president of India.
Are you asking the people of Rajasthan to return the favour by voting for the BJP? Are you asking them to repay a debt?
I would not like to use the word debt. This is not appropriate. We selected Bhairon Singhji as the vice-president of India looking at his stature and the service he has rendered to the nation. By making him vice-president, we paid back our debt. He or the people of Rajasthan are in no way indebted to the party.
The Congress has alleged that though Shekhawatji holds a constitutional post, he continues to indulge in Rajasthan politics...
This is a baseless allegation. He is nowhere in these elections. People must understand that in a state like Rajasthan, where over 3.5 crore voters will take part, someone cannot campaign underground.
What are the factors that would bring down Ashok Gehlot's numbers in the assembly from 153 now to just above 60, as you predict?
He rode on the anti-incumbency factor and got this brute majority. The same factors are now working against him. Gehlot's negative image and his lack of performance will be the additional factors that bring the voters to the BJP fold.
Both the Centre and the state government have been claiming credit for handling the drought situation in the state...
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has often said the state's coffers are empty. Rajasthan was under severe drought for four years. The wheat which went to every home in Rajasthan, we neither produced in Rajasthan nor was it purchased by him. Wheat came from Haryana and Punjab and the [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee government paid for it. The people of Rajasthan know these facts.
Will the caste factor play a major role in Rajasthan?
Castes came to India much before the political systems started. In elections, caste is always a factor. It helps and harms all political parties equally. So at the end of the day peformance and people only matter and not the castes.
In his election speech in Jaipur on November 28, Prime Minister Vajpayee said the Lok Sabha polls would be held after the assembly polls. Was he indicating an early poll?
I am absolutely sure that whatever the results in these four states, the general elections will be held only in September 2004.
The prime minister forgot to introduce Vasundhara Raje as the party's candidate for chief ministership. He had to come back to correct the error.
Frankly there was no need to introduce Vasundhara Raje as the party's candidate for the post of chief minister. After Vajpayeeji had finished his speech, someone in the party mentioned it to him and since the prime minister did not want to take the risk of adverse publicity, he repeated the party's stand on the issue and introduced Vasundhara Raje as the first woman chief minister of the party on behalf of the BJP.
You say you are winning in Rajasthan. What about the other states?
We will have comfortable wins in all four states. We will have a 4-0 lead over the Congress.
Assembly Elections 2003: The complete coverage