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November 18, 1998


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The Rediff Election Interview/K N Govindacharya

'The price rise as an issue has only affected
23 constituencies in Rajasthan,
and is being overplayed by the Congress'

K N Govindarcharya K N Govindacharya is the man the Bharatiya Janata Party has entrusted with the management of its election campaign in Rajasthan. By all accounts, his is a difficult task. Poll pundits say the BJP's chances of winning this election are slim, for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, Govindacharya remains undaunted, confident that his party can, and will, pip the Congress at the hustings.

The BJP ideologue, who has spent the last two months in Rajasthan, planning the campaign and mobilising party workers, spoke to Amberish K Diwanji. in Jaipur.

How do you see the BJP's chances in the elections? Surveys put you behind the Congress.

The BJP's chances have improved considerably over the past two weeks. In our perception, as of today, we are ahead of the Congress.

My claim is based on certain facts. First, all the poll surveys were taken from October 29 to November 2, before the last date for withdrawal [of nominations]. Following that, now there are about 100 rebel Congress candidates in the fray, out of whom at least 44 can seriously jeopardise the Congress's chances. By contrast, the BJP has only 22 rebel candidates of who only eight are serious. By serious, I mean former legislators, district party chiefs and the like.

There is a week to go [for the polling]. Our top leaders will be touring the state, whereas top Congress leaders have mostly finished their tours. These two factors will aid us to go past the Congress, because in the last elections [the March 1998 Lok Sabha election], the Congress gained only three per cent more votes than us, which unfortunately translated into 18 seats compared to our five. I think the rebels will nullify the three per cent advantage. As of today, I put the Congress at 92 seats, the BJP at 93 seats.

What makes you so sure? Is there not the anti-incumbency factor?

The Congress has a stable base of 40 per cent of the state's vote. In March 1998, they won about 44 per cent because the United Front was simply wiped out. This vote of the UF will now go to the rebels, leaving the Congress with the 1993 Rajasthan assembly election figure. On the other hand, the BJP vote percentage has steadily increased in every election, and currently stands at 41 per cent.

I say this because our experience shows that in state elections, local issues matter a lot more than in national elections. Also, Congress rebels tend to be local leaders of some standing in the villages and districts, hence they are of some threat to the official Congress candidates. Especially in Rajasthan, where local independents have a record of winning consistently. Whereas in the BJP, the candidates tend to win only because of the party; on their own they matter little.

Regarding the anti-incumbency factor, whatever difficult decisions the BJP government had to take, such as the power tariff, [were taken some time ago] and for which the people have already punished us in March. In fact, having taken their anger out, they will not repeat the same.

The Congress is harping on the price rise as an issue. How do you counter that?

We are stressing on local-level development. Our survey shows that we did badly in March because we failed to highlight our achievements. Thus it is not your performance, but the image of your performance. So, for the first time in the history of electioneering, we have published different village-level posters, district-level folders, and constituency-level booklets highlighting the specific achievements in these very villages, districts and constituencies. We intend to counter the price-rise charge by showing off our positive work.

Development is somewhat abstract. Will it woo the poor voter, the housewife who is shocked at having to pay Rs 40 for a kilo of onions?

The price rise as an issue has only affected 23 constituencies in Rajasthan, and is being overplayed by the Congress. In villages where nothing existed, a small gain goes a long way. Thus, the creation of a school, of primary health care, of toilets for women or for the scheduled castes or tribes; these things mean a lot to villagers who struggle in their day-to-day existence. And the village-level voters will keep this in mind while voting. This is what the city-level poll surveyor or journalist does not realise.

You seem to have a low opinion of poll surveys.

Survey reports often miss out on the people's mood, on issues that may affect them in the run-up. In the last survey, the various polls predicted a hung assembly in Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. In all three, different political parties won a comfortable majority. Moreover, polls cannot gauge the effect of aspects like caste, of the influence of neighbouring regions, etc.

So how many seats do you see yourself winning?

We will gain a majority this time, with more than 100 seats. There are 47 seats where the BJP has never won to date, and our efforts are to capture at least 10 of these seats, which are in the north and the west. In the north, the effect of the Akali Dal, our allies in Punjab, might influence the voters. So even if we lose in our strongholds, we would have managed a buffer. And this makes us confident of a majority.

Is there not much infighting within the BJP ranks in Rajasthan? Sections of the RSS are opposed to Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. And even the BJP chief took a long time to declare that Shekhawat will be the CM if the BJP returns to power.

If the RSS were against Shekhawat, there is no way he would have ever been named the chief minister. All these are lies. On the contrary, Shekhawat is our star campaigner who is leading the fight, whereas the Congress is suffering from too many small leaders and no one in command.

And [party president Shashikant 'Kushabhau' ] Thakre only said the chief minister would be elected by the BJP legislators. He said this twice, and the third time, when the media asked if that meant Shekhawat, Thakre replied that "Shekhawat is the obvious choice of the people".

Assembly Elections '98

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