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The Rediff Election Interview/Dorab R Sopariwala

April 15, 2004

Dorab R Sopariwala surveyed the coming general election in an extensive interview with Senior Associate Editor Archana Masih, the concluding segment which we publish today.

Educated at the London School of Economics and the Imperial College of Science & Technology in London, Sopariwala specialises in India's electoral system and is a consultant with NDTV, one of India's news television channels.

A part of this interview first appeared in the April 9 issue of India Abroad, the newspaper for the Indian-American community owned by

Part I: 'I don't think the NDA will get 400 seats' 

Part II: 'BJP must guard against losing cricket match'

Part III: 'In India, politics is business'

Is it possible to return to a single party rule -- the BJP or Congress -- if there was, say an economic debacle or a more resurgent nationalism?

Resurgent nationalism has to be communicated to the rural areas where 70 percent of the voters reside and it is very difficult to do that. It could happen some day, who am I to say but in the foreseeable future, the chances appear to be limited for a single party. I don't see this happening in the next 10 to 15 years.

I don't think the BJP's allies will allow that to happen because they [the allies] know they will be kicked out. They don't want to take that chance. The allies realise that if these guys [BJP] become too powerful, they'll want to take over their state. So, perhaps as the BJP gets stronger and its people want power in the states, you may see some tensions emerging between the BJP and its allies.

What are the states the Congress has to win/keep to stay in the reckoning?

Win? What do they have today? Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Delhi, Assam, part of Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. That's all they have at the moment.

The Congress needs to do well in states that have more seats like UP, Maharashtra, Karnataka. Whatever they do, in Tamil Nadu, they are only contesting 7, 8 seats, in Andhra they are contesting 30, 32. In Orissa they only got 2 last time, they need to do better.

In the states where the BJP has recently won assembly elections, the odds are the Congress' tally will come down in comparison with their 1999 score. They've got to make it up from somewhere else. So where do they make up? In states like Andhra Pradesh -- where they did quite well in terms of votes but very poorly in terms of seats. They'll have to try and hold on to Karnataka and Kerala and do better in Orissa. It's a tough fight.

Could there be a situation where the next prime minister could neither be Mr Vapayee nor Mrs Gandhi but Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mr Sharad Pawar?

Very unlikely. If the NDA comes to power, there's no question that it'll be Mr Vajpayee. If it doesn't, then everything is open. But how stable that government would be is doubtful. People like Mr Yadav and Mr Pawar; they only have a base in one state. It's very difficult to run a nation when your base is so limited. The pushes and the pulls are too many and it's too difficult. But in India, we do anything for power.

Do you think the BJP could win power in Karnataka or open its account in Kerala?

These are not beyond the realms of possibility. It's too early to tell but the poll does suggest that the BJP is doing well in Karnataka; it is too early to tell whether it will win.

What are the vulnerable states for the BJP/NDA?

Maharashtra is one. Andhra Pradesh. Wherever you have large majorities in terms of seats -- Orissa, Bihar. These are the states where the NDA has to hold on to its large share of seats.

Now whether a public who is used to Laloo Prasad Yadav is still willing to vote for him, and what proportion isn't, is something we don't know.

Your poll says 70 percent of the people are happy with Laloo Prasad Yadav?

Yes. He's a great politician -- the operative word is 'politician.' Perhaps the best this country has. He may be a terrible administrator but he is a great politician. He holds the people in his hands. That's a great skill.

What are the safe states for the BJP?

Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh -- the four states with a Congress-BJP direct fight. Except for Delhi, all these states are very, very good for the BJP.

Do you think there would have been such support for the BJP/NDA if not for Mr Vajpayee?

It's a very difficult question to answer. Like 'After Mr Nehru, what'll happen?' A leader always emerges. When a leader changes, there is trauma but a new leader takes on from where the earlier guy had left off. It's not as if he is a CEO who actually does the work; he is more a man who gives the voice or the face to the government.

Ten years ago, Mr Advani was thought to be a hardliner. Now he has realised that that doesn't get him votes, so he has become relatively moderate. Except perhaps in the Congress, leadership doesn't matter as much. You find another leader.

A nation where 60 percent of its population is young, what is it that gets a 79-year-old man like Mr Vajpayee so much support?

Perhaps it is not Mr Vajpayee, perhaps it is the reassurance and perhaps the fact that India is shining for younger people.

It's not as if young people are flocking to the BJP. I think it's vulnerability they have that, in a country that is young, the leadership is very old. If this continues for another 5 or 10 years and, if people like Rahul Gandhi came up, it would cause a certain degree of vote erosion. Because you wouldn't want an 85-year-old guy telling you what to do. Simple as that.

Is the young voter the great imponderable in this election?

I don't know. Probably they will vote in consultation with their parents. I don't think they'll vote wildly differently.

What are your thoughts on film actors in the fray?

We know the ability of film actors to attract crowds. We do not know of their ability to convert crowds into votes. Shatrughan Sinha is today a member of the Rajya Sabha. But he has been in politics for many years, he did not walk in one fine morning.

Are young voters actually going to come out and vote?

The poll that we've done doesn't suggest now that people in the younger age group are less likely to vote. People claim -- of course, many of them are liars -- that 90 percent plus will vote and they make that claim across age groups. When the crunch comes on voting day, 60 to 65 per cent will cast their ballots.

Image: Uttam Ghosh

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