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The Rediff Interview/Venkaiah Naidu
February 13, 2003
Campaigning for his party in Solan, 45 kilometers from Shimla, Bharatiya Janata Party President Venkaiah Naidu gave a scintillating speech and also instilled confidence amongst his party's candidates.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh, Naidu made a scathing attack on the Congress for levelling charges of corruption against state BJP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
What is your assessment of the poll scenario?
It is too early to give any assessment at this juncture because we have just begun our party campaign. Last time we got only 28 seats. Everyone wondered whether we would survive for long after we took support of Sukh Ram's Himachal Vikas Congress. Before the assembly was dissolved our strength was 35. We hope to get a thumping majority in the assembly election.
How much damage do you expect Sukh Ram to do to your party?
Last time he won four seats but this time his area of influence will be limited. He is not going to win very many seats but he could do some damage. It depends upon how many votes his candidates poll. If they even get 1,000 votes in their constitutencies, they will definitely damage either the Congress or BJP candidates. But he would do more damage to the Congress than to us.
Do you think the BJP is going to suffer a great deal because of allegations of corruption levelled by the Congress party against your Chief Minister P K Dhumal?
My answer is none whatsoever. If any other party had made these allegations then I could understand. But the Congress which has tons of scams to its credit is making an attempt to throw mud on Dhumal in the hope that some mud would stick. But that is not going to happen.
People know the truth. Captain Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab, is trying his best, but he will not succeed. Dhumal has led our party with distinction. We are going to win because of him.
But there are sharp differences between Dhumal and Shanta Kumar. Would that effect you?
There are no differences between them. These differences are more in the media then in reality.
Why have you decided to campaign actively in the manner as you have done?
Himachal Pradesh is an important state from our point of view. We had decided that ten of our top party leaders will campaign in the districts of the state. We have done precisely that. While L K Advaniji addressed meetings in Kulu and Dharmshala, I was asked to address meetings in Solan and Nalagarh.
Likewise Rajnath Singh went to Una, Sushma Swaraj to Hamirpur, Uma Bharti to Chamba and so on. Some of our friends in the media wanted to know if we were resorting to bombing. It is nothing of that sort. We merely began the campaign simultaneously.
Are Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi also being pressed into service?
The prime minister has allotted two days -- February 21 and 22 to Himachal Pradesh. We have asked him to give us one more day. The details of his schedule are being worked out right now. As far as Narendra Modi is concerned, he is definitely coming to Himachal Pradesh to address rallies.
The Congress alleges that the state is reeling under heavy financial debt which is as high as Rs 15,000 crore.
This is a highly exaggerated figure that is being given by the Congress to the media. The financial condition of the state is lot better then any other state of the Indian union.
Don't you think the anti-incumbency factor is going to work against you?
Anti-incumbency is only being talked about by the media. The Congress hopes to come back to power in the state. I do not think this is going to affect us in any manner. We are going to get a two third majority. We have done major developmental works in the state.
As minister for rural development I sanctioned Rs 220 crore for rural roads in the state. We have initiated projects for power generation, insurance sector, telecommunications. The prime minister has special attachment for the state. The Dhumal government has taken a number of steps for improving the lot of the farmers. A mandi has been set up in Solan district where farmers could sell their produce instead of selling it in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab.
We have confidence that the people of the state would like to have a government that has friendly relations with the Centre. The Vajpayee government is going to remain in power for two more years. Then we will return to power with our NDA allies with over 300 seats under Vajpayeeji's leadership.
So the people of the state will return Dhumal back to power. I have no doubt about it. We have adopted a new feedback system. According to that we are going to do better than last time.
How crucial are the Himachal Pradesh results?
They are crucial in the sense that it would set the tone for future strategy. We treat the Himachal elections as the quarter-finals. If we win then we will have the semi-finals in Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh later this year. The final will be the 2004 Lok Sabha election.
Why I say we will win the election in Himachal Pradesh is because of the prime minister's soaring popularity in the state. He is the most popular national leader in the state, he has adopted it as his second home.
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