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The Rediff Interview / N Chandrababu Naidu

'We expect the prime minister to convince the Karnataka government to stop all construction on the dam'

Nara Chandrababu Naidu To take on Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, to lead a successful rebellion against him, to oust him from the chief ministership and then nullify NTR's attempts to whip up mass support in his favour - these are no mean feats for a politician in Andhra Pradesh.

And yet Nara Chandrababu Naidu, son-in-law of the Telugu Desam Party founder, not only attempted the task, but even pulled it off with surprising ease.

This alone would have ensured for Naidu a place in the history books as an ace strategist - but then the AP chief minister outdid himself when he took the lead in cobbling together an alliance of 13 small parties and installing, at the Centre, the coalition government headed by H D Deve Gowda.

And it is a measure of Naidu's firm grip on the polity of his home state that even a recent revolt by NTR's third son Nandamuri Harikrishna, state minister for transport, failed to make the slightest dent in his control over both the TDP and the government.

Naidu completed a year in office on September 1 - an anniversary not many would have backed him to celebrate. Indications are, however, that his second year in office could be rougher than the first.

In his second year in office, Naidu is beset on many fronts. For one, the Opposition Congress has found, in the Almatti dam controversy, a convenient stick to beat him with. Two, his relationship with Prime Minister Deve Gowda is not as cordial as before. And at home, the politically powerful farming community has taken the lead in rebelling against the Rs 450 billion tax burden imposed on the state by the TDP government in its latest budget.

It is a measure of the reputation he has built up that despite these many pitfalls, observers are not prepared to write him off just yet. How does the canny politico hope to tackle his problems? Chandrababu Naidu attempts answers, in an exclusive interview to M S Shanker for Rediff On The NeT. Excerpts:

Congratulations on successfully completing one year in office. What are your major achievements?

Thanks for the compliment. I feel greatly relieved for doing my bit to take the state forward. I don't want to claim that my government can find solutions to all the problems facing the people. You know about my government's tightrope walk as far as the state finances are concerned. I have no complaints to make. It is true that the state economy is burdened by certain schemes which are aimed at helping the needy.

Your party bounced back to power on twin promises -- supply of subsidised rice at Rs 2 a kg and prohibition. But your government has altered the subsidised rice scheme by increasing the price by Rs 1.50. Why?

When our party introduced the subsidised rice scheme in 1983, the price in the open market of fine rice was just Rs 3.50 to Rs 4. Then the burden on the state exchequer was around Rs 1.5 billion a year. But, now rice in the open market is being sold at Rs 8 to Rs 10 and the burden is around Rs 13 billion. Moreover, the minimum wages of agricultural and industrial labour too have been raised considerably.

To reduce the burden on the state exchequer, we increased the price of rice. I find nothing wrong in doing so in the best interests of the people and for the overall development of the state.

So your party did not do enough homework on the financial front before making tall promises in the election manifesto.

It is not so. We did our homework. But we never expected the outgoing Congress to hand over empty coffers to us!

What about prohibition? All and sundry are criticising your government's failure to make 'total prohibition' a reality.

To some extent, I accept the criticism. Still, I and my party feel that 'total prohibition' is the only solution to mitigate the problems of the poor. It is the best weapon to fight poverty in the country. My party never expected results overnight in the implementation of the 'dry law.' We expect the people to co-operate and make the 'dry law' a success.

How does your government propose to put the state economy back on the rails?

We have started the process of improving the state economy in right earnest. No government had come out with 'status papers' to seek suggestions from the people. It's a great experience, as we wanted every individual in the state to become an active partner in the government.

H D Deve Gowda Are your relations with the Prime Minister Deve Gowda strained on the Almatti dam controversy?

No. My government has put forward our point of view and sought the prime minister's help in finding an amicable solution to the problem. We expect the prime minister to convince the Karnataka government to stop all construction on the dam. I think, the rain god has been so kind to us that the intermittent rain has brought the construction activity at the dam to a grinding half.

What will happen if Deve Gowda fails in his attempts? After all, he has to protect his native state's interests....

We continue to stick to our argument that increasing the dam's height amounts to violating the Bachawat Tribunal award signed by the three riparian states, namely Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in sharing the Krishna waters till 2000 How can this be allowed to happen?

Congressmen complain that you are only shedding crocodile tears They allege your government did nothing till they raked up the issue. How far is this true?

It's unfair of the Congress to level such baseless allegations. Congressmen might have kicked up a controversy, as they had no other issues to launch agitations against my government.

What will happen to the Telugu Ganga project? Once again Congressmen succeeded in taking the wind out of your sails by showing their concern for the alleged injustice done to Rayalseema farmers. Congress MP Y S Rajasekhara Reddy has already moved the high court and the court has sought a 'status paper' on the project from the government.

As I have explained to you, Congressmen are trying to politicise every issue with an eye to derive mileage out of it. My government will not allow that to happen. It's our promise to supply Krishna water for drinking to Madras. We shall honour our promise at all cost.

Even at the cost of Rayalaseema farmers?

No, I never said that. We received good rains and the Rayalaseema farmer understands the problem well. I am confident the controversy will blow over soon.

Do you fear straining your relationship with the DMK in Tamil Nadu?

That question will not arise, as the government is committed to fulfilling its assurance given to the Tamil brethren.

Would you like to oblige Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray by inviting his party into the United Front fold?

I have nothing to offer at this point of time.

May be later...

Let us see! (He smiles.)

How long do you think the UF government will survive?

As long as we co-operate to solve each other's problems.

The Rediff Interview

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