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The Rediff Election Interviews

'Corruption under his regime has reached the zenith'
'He [Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal] has forgotten all about the Punjab Accord, our river water dispute with Haryana and Rajasthan. He has been busy siphoning off money and filling his pockets.' Simranjit Singh Mann lashes out.

'Pawar would've made a better leader for the Congress'
'She [Sonia Gandhi] is still not known in the country. That is her very big disadvantage. Maybe when she is known, that may become even bigger disadvantage, I do not know! Cho Ramaswamy in full flow.

'There was no consultation over the names. It was George's duty, if not courtesy, to do so'
'He should have at least had the basic decency, to tell me, "Look, there are elections coming in Bihar. We need to prepare the JD-U, and we therefore need to accommodate one more MP from there," and I would have understood. After all, becoming a minister is no one's birthright,' Ramakrishna Hegde tells Krishna Prasad.

'Victory brings its own set of problems'
'Like providing good governance to the people. We put together an implementable manifesto, and we should now put that into action. That is a gigantic task in itself, and the new Congress government in Karnataka should rise up to it as quickly as possible,' says S M Krishna.

'We are not right or left but only forward'
'It is the debt of your ancestors you are paying for centuries of oppression. Merit of the individual is secondary to the merit of the nation. Reservation is the remedy for social and cultural deprivation,' argues BJP leader Govindacharya.

'Sonia will do very well as prime minister'
'Who has had the experience of running the country as prime minister? Did Atal Bihariji have any experience as prime minister?' asks Congress veteran N D Tiwari.

'Naidu's contribution cannot be measured in direct terms'
'Naidu has taken several initiatives - the creation of the Indian Institute of Information Technology, International Business School, Hi-Tec City, etc - which would bring results in the long term,' says B V R Mohan Reddy.

'When Vajpayeeji's government is reinstalled, naturally my party has to be repaid'
'Jyoti Basu has told his partymen in the rural areas that he will have their guts for garters if the Trinamul makes a similar showing there as my party did in and around Calcutta last year. That is the level of the chief minister's fright,' says Mamta Banerjee.

'Technology is not the issue... It is about managing the change'
'With the basic level of infrastructure that has been created, I would think that within one year we should have sufficient local content which would drive the further growth of the sector', says R Chandrashekhar

'The BJP is selling something which gives indigestion to the people of Bengal'
'The BJP can never get a hold on Bengal. For that reason, I think the BJP-Trinamul alliance is very temporary. Mamta is bound to go away,' feels former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray.

'If a leader is a leader, he cannot be sidelined'
'I was a minister under Narasimha Rao when I ordered the arrest of Chandra Swami. Was I sidelined? Could he sideline me?' Rajesh Pilot, in a forthright interview.

'My goal is to bring together Mulayam Singh and Kalyan Singh under a common banner'
'I wish to forge a re-alignment of backward forces and change the course of the country's politics and undo the damage caused by the likes of Sharad Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav to the cause of the OBCs,' says Sachchidanand Sakshi Maharaj.

'Results will speak for my performance'
'I don't want to paint a rosy picture. But, I must say that we all have worked very hard to revive the Congress party in the state. We have had to rebuild the organisation in the state from scratch. We gave ideological bites to our grassroots workers. We achieved the almost impossible task of winning back the minorities,' says Salman Khurshid.

'The future chief minister of Karnataka will be my leader Yediyurappa, the man who built the BJP brick by brick...'
'When the people empower us to govern, as I am sure they will this time too, why should we sit in the opposition?' asks Civil Aviation Minister, and potential chief minister of Karnataka, Ananth Kumar.

'Kalyan Singh has destroyed Uttar Pradesh'
'I am contesting because I want save the people of Rampur from being divided. Vested interests have been trying to divide our people on the basis of their caste and religion. The Bharatiya Janata Party is at the forefront of this effort. But they will not succeed,' says Begum Noor Bano.

'Congress should be happy if it manages to win Amethi'
'Atal Bihari Vajpayee's charisma is one factor that is working across the country. The National Democratic Alliance will get more than 320 seats and Atal Bihari Vajpayee will head the new government,' says Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi..

'Chandrababu is totally bankrupt. He wants to cling to any straw that comes his way...'
'The way his profile has been built up the outside world thinks he is someone really big, really great. It is not so. People at the grassroots level have seen what he really is', says Y S Rajasekhar Reddy.

'I am still in the family'
I'm a Gandhi. It is a matter of fact. It is only those people who aren't sure about themselves who have to keep proclaiming it,' says Maneka Gandhi.

'I don't give a damn for the exit polls'
Mulayam Singh Yadav says the Congress and the BJP are working to edge his party out of UP, and that the media is hand-in-glove with them.

'A Congress government will certainly be headed only by her'
'The Congress is not averse to Left parties because they have already pledged their support to Sonia months ago. We do not want to mix national politics with state politics,' says K Karunakaran.

'She is an Indian in body and in mind, and loves this country from her heart'
'If she was truly a foreigner in India, wouldn't she have tried to bring us up differently? Would we be so Indian in the way we speak, the way we look, the way we dress?' Priyanka defends her mother.

'I want the PM's position to be a matter of pride for India'
'I am asking a simple question. Had Sonia Gandhi been a Negress, would these people have accepted her? No. The Indians are obsessed with white skin.' S Gurumurthy, outspoken!

'Manipulators get exposed in due course'
'Congressmen never show their own face and win an election. They always show someone else's face. They are incapable of doing anything without the Gandhi family, dead or alive,' says Anant Nag.

'We are not in a hurry, the Ram temple is going to come and nobody can prevent it'
'Naturally there will be more crowds to see Jayalalitha because they don't otherwise get an opportunity to see her at all. That does not mean that people will vote for her or support her. BJP's Tamil Nadu general secretary L Ganeshan speaks his mind.

'When they see me, even chain smokers stub their cigarettes'
'My job is to see that Ram lalla is not shifted. I know nobody on this planet can do it.' ... 'I think Digvijay Singh feels threatened by me.'... 'With Advaniji I keep a distance.' Uma Bharti, as never before!

'Elections in J&K have not been fair since 1987'
'With 5 or 10 per cent of polling what is the representative character? But the Constitution is such that even if there is only one per cent polling people get elected,' says Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

'We compromised on the Shah Bano case. That was our undoing'
'We made a few mistakes. We deviated from Congress ideology at times. I think we are again on the right course now.' Digvijay Singh in candour mode.

'Last time we were given 374 companies of additional forces, this time we got only eight'
J&K DGP Gurbachan Jagat speaks about the security arrangements needed for polls in his state and the constraints he faces.

'Vajpayee has proved to be a non-performing PM'
'We should be getting 25, 30 seats...' 'My friendship with the Ambanis is very personal. The old man likes me and I have great respect for him.' MP Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, in a candid interview.

'Advani has a very great contempt for the Constitution of India'
'Kashmir is totally secular; it can never become part of Pakistan. They can never settle in the puritanism of Jamaat-I-Islami and other outfits there.' Professor Saifuddin Soz tells Varsha Bhosle.

'With all this corruption and malpractices, Dr Abdullah's regime goes scot-free because Delhi needs him'
Professor Saifuddin Soz, who is contesting this Saturday's Lok Sabha election from Baramulla, tells Varsha Bhosle.

'This is the toughest election I have ever faced'
'If the Akali Dal had not split, we would have bagged all 13 seats. But because of the division in Akali votes we will lose a few seats to the Congress,' says Union minister Surjeet Singh Barnala.

'My politics is more a matter of the heart than the head'
'Our (mine and mother's) political thinking is poles apart. But still I do draw the line somewhere and I don't think it is very healthy for two members of the same family to fight each other in the same constituency,' says Madhavrao Scindia.

'There are political compulsions, but we would like to go at it alone'
'My son has a good equation with the youth, more than anybody else. He does not have some of the defects I have. My relationship with the workers, my approach is bureaucratic, his is not,' says K Natwar Singh.

'This chap was writing poems. Why doesn't he write some now on the Kargil martyrs?'

'I understand India bloody well'
'The biggest problem is it is not developed at all. There is no water. It is barren land and agriculture is badly affected. It needs development and irrigation has not taken place in the last 52 years', says Nitish Bharadwaj, the Bharatiya Janta Party's candidate for the Rajgarh Lok Sabha constituency.

'I am here to redefine election as a cultural exercise and stop it from being a political stunt'
'I was certain about one thing: that if I would ever contest an election, it would always be on a CPI-M ticket because I have always been a Left-supporter ideologically and practically,' says Malayalam actor Murali, the party's candidate for the Alappuzha Lok Sabha constituency.

'There is a Sonia wave'
'Pawar has already cut a deal with the BJP. He thinks by this his nephew (Ajit Pawar) will become chief minister of Maharashtra and he can become the deputy prime minister of India,' says A R Antulay.

'In a democracy, the people also look at the Opposition's performance'
'Pawar's leadership has failed all over the state. And the leadership he is giving to the state is Chhagan Bhujbal, and no one can believe Bhujbal means business,' says Bombay's only 4-time MP, Ram Naik.

'The only issue political parties must contest on is the economy'
'Of course we will gain in the election, because there is a clear division of votes of the Congress and Republican Party,' says former Maharashtra CM Manohar Joshi.

'For us this is dharm yudha. For us this is jihad'
'Defeat the Congress for deception. They went back on their promise, which they gave us in their election manifestos of 1993 and 1998. They said they would give us reservation.' Jat Mahasabha leader Dr Gyan Prakash Pilania, in an exclusive interview.

'The regional leaders will feel deserted when the BJP reveals its fangs'
'The BJP is not like any other bourgeois party. They will not just rule for five years and go away. Once the RSS captures the country's administration and the polity they will go over to a fascist type of Hindu raj. Fascism in India means Hindu rashtra: one language, one country, one religion,' says Marxist leader N Sankaraiah.

'How can you assess performance in 13 months?'
'When I have already taken a decision never to fight an election in my life, what sense does it make to stop me from contesting? As for voting, every crook, every criminal, every terrorist can vote but they don't want me to vote. So be it. I won't,' says Bal Thackeray.

'We sacrificed ourselves for democracy and secularism'
'We will play a significant role to strengthen the Third Front and try our best to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party away from power. I am optimistic that the different JD factions will come together,' holds Chand Mahal Ibrahim, H D Deve Gowda's right arm, and candidate in Kozhikode.

'Sonia has charisma'
'People have not realised that fully yet, because they are so busy comparing her with Indira and Rajiv, which is not a fair thing to do,' feels former Karnataka CM S Bangarappa, in a delightful interview.

'The 1984 anti-Sikh riot is part of history now'
'So long as the Pakistani woman has accepted Indian citizenship, she accepts the Indian system and wants to participate in the Indian political system, let her go ahead. Eventually, it is for the Indian people to decide whether to accept her or not,' says Captain Amarinder Singh.

'The Congress will have to drag me to make me a minister'
Amberish K Diwanji catches up with the redoubtable T N Seshan on the campaign trail in Gandhinagar.

'It is wrong to say Pawar is all that powerful in Maharashtra'
'I think there is a political trick to defeat me,' says former Lok Sabha speaker Shivraj Patil.

'If we have 40 seats, we will play a decisive role in the formation of a govt'
'It is logical to assume that the split in the Congress will help the BJP, but it doesn't always work out that way. There is no arithmetic in politics,' feels NCP leader Prafulla Patel.

'Jayalalitha removed her slipper and showed it to me'
'She abused me. She told me to join the DMK. She says there was no place in the ADMK for me as long as she was there.' Tamaraikani on why he rebelled against Amma.

'After Anna, I admire Vajpayee the most'
'In a way, flattery helps politicians. There is nothing wrong in flattery,' says MDMK general secretary Vaiko.

'The people want to teach the Congress a lesson'
'We are surely going to win about 160 assembly seats. As far as parliamentary elections are concerned, we will repeat our 1996 performance by winning at least 33 out of 48 seats in Maharashtra,' says Gopinath Munde.

'The BJP's vicious campaign against Sonia will backfire'
'Vajpayee cannot understand complex matters. His absorptive capacity is very limited. I have found that his concentration lapses after five minutes. He is no doubt a fine poet, but to run the country you don't need poets, but capable men,' says former Union minister Manmohan Singh.

'The issue before the voter is: who is going to be the PM?'
'The main issue would be the suitability of the two candidates, one openly projected and the other somewhat indirectly projected or left to be understood,' says political commentator Cho Ramaswamy.

'Ridiculing a widow does not bring great credit to Hindutva'
'The kind of filth that is being flung around in Bellary is shocking. George Fernandes's campaign is despicable. We too can descend to this, and attack Hegde or Fernandes personally, as they have been attacking Soniaji. We are deliberately holding back, because otherwise these polls will become the murkiest in the history of Indian politics,' says Karnataka Congress chief S M Krishna.

'India is the land of Gandhiji and Vinoba Bhave. In such a land, even raising the videshi issue is foolishness'
'We will win well. In 1998 we got 18 seats. We will do better this time. That's definite,' says Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

'Nobody expects me to achieve in real life what I achieve in films'
'They expect me to be clean, not corrupt, and genuinely dedicated to them. If I achieve 20 per cent of what they ask of me, they are more than satisfied,' says Kannada actor-turned MP Ambareesh.

'To be frank, people in Bellary do not know that Soniaji is originally from Italy'
'Yes, Bellary has returned 12 Congress MPs since 1952. So isn't it appropriate on our part that to show our gratitude towards the voters here, none other than the Congress president herself should contest from here?' asks K C Kondaiah.

'Our first priority is to ensure that a foreign woman must neither win in India or push our country towards foreign rule again'
BJP leader B S Yediyurappa, widely tipped to be Karnataka's next chief minister, is in a fighting mood.

'Deve Gowda's Janata Dal will disappear after the Lok Sabha elections'
'In politics, abusing is a normal phenomenon. Yes, Patel has abused me and I have abused him. The BJP has also abused Patel. But now we all have come together for a lasting political friendship,' says Ramakrishna Hegde.

'I cannot take orders from every Tom, Dick and Harry'
'The harassment, the torture, the troubles I faced in the last 6,7 months was too much,' says Dalit Ezhimalai, who resigned recently as Vajpayee's health minister.

'I have been the only campaigner in Maharashtra'
'If the NCP, the Janata Dal-Secular and the Samajwadi Party together get 60 seats, it would mean that nobody would get a clear mandate to form the government at the Centre. In such a scenario our 60 seats would be the decisive factor,' says Sharad Pawar.

'The BJP government failed in its fundamental duty of guarding our international borders'
'There are a number of issues that would be raised during the campaign. For instance, there is the issue of conversions. Then the rising attacks on Christian minorities and the rising social tensions between various communities.' Disclosures from CPI-M politbureau member Sitaram Yechury.

'This is an election to fight for national pride'
'I will convince the electorate the folly of electing a foreigner as prime minister. I am so excited that fighting Sonia has become a mission and a cause for me,' says Sushma Swaraj.

'The attack on Sonia's origin is hurting rural women'
In the second and concluding part of his interview, Sunil Dutt dwells on the Congress philosophy, the Sonia effect and the Pawar rebellion.

'People speculate, they did not even spare Sita'
'People must know that this man's son was rotting in jail for 15 months. His own party was responsible for putting him in prison, but he still didn't leave the party. He differed from the party but didn't leave it. Party is an ideology. Party is not an individual.' Sunil Dutt explains why he did what he did.

'Our aim is to defeat the BJP government'
'Soon the Congress will be even more isolated and will lose other states too. See what has happened to it. With Sharad Pawar walking out, they will lose Maharashtra too.' Kerala Chief Minister E K Nayanar shoots wide and far.

'I have been talking with the BJP for almost 10 years now'
'The BJP is all set to sweep the polls. It's a one-horse race this time. No one can stop it. The North has already been conquered and with the DMK and the TDP as allies, the South is also won,' says Arun Nehru.

'To protect Goan identity, Congress is the only viable option'
'The Congress and the BJP are forceful, aggressive and even violent. They are like the Moghul army invading small principalities.' Ramakant Khalap on why he split the MGP.

'My confabulations with Jayalalitha over the past year upset Sasikala'
'Prithviraj Chauhan may have forgiven Mohammad Ghori fifteen times, but I am not going to be so foolish. I will never align with Jayalalitha again. Never!' Dr Subramanian Swamy in pique.