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February 6, 1998


The Rediff Interview/ Nara Chandrababu Naidu

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'My detractors have run out of issues. So they are raking up old issues'

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu says he cares two hoots for the pollsters.

Travelling alone in a chartered helicopter all over the state, Naidu has been leaving no stone unturned in his bid to arrest the 'Sonia factor'.

Though the star Congress campaigner has been drawing huge crowds in the state -- whether it is backward Nalgonda or paddy-rich coastal Guntur -- Naidu hopes to win the maximum numbers of seats for his party and its allies in the United Front.

His Telugu Desam Party hopes to win 30 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats. But several observers feel the going will not be easy as Naidu has gone back on several electoral promises -- he has withdrawn prohibition, increased the price of subsidised rice and hiked power tariff to the farming sector.

The backlash of those harsh -- but pragmatic decisions -- seems to hitting the chief minister now. Hostile crowds have created ugly scenes at his meetings in several coastal districts which bore the brunt of the anti-liquor movement.

In an exclusive interview to M S Shanker at Markapur, Prakasam district, where a cotton farmer attempted suicide at a public meeting, Naidu was confident of the TDP's victory in the election.

How do you assess your party's chances as the countdown for the election begins?

Very good.

Don't you think Sonia Gandhi, who has been drawing huge crowds, will help tilt the scales in favour of the Congress?

You are wrong. Look, even I am drawing huge crowds. One cannot judge the poll outcome by the crowds one draws at public meetings.

Your detractors say that withdrawing prohibition and reviewing the subsidy rice scheme will have a negative impact.

I had to take these painful decisions in the interests of the state. I have explained the government's financial difficulties and held several rounds of discussions with the Opposition members and a cross-section of people before the decisions were taken. So, there is no reason for anyone to crib.

My detractors have run out of issues. So they are raking up old issues.

Are you saying the hostile crowds will not affect your party's performance?

Absolutely, nothing. I suspect some of these protestors were sent to my meetings by the Congress.

During your campaign, you have been saying you work more than 16 hours a day and ask people to do the same. Do you think this strategy will work?

I am only trying to promote a work culture. It is true I work 16 hours a day. And I ask my colleagues, including bureaucrats, to work with some dedication and commitment. My legislators devote most of their time to attend to people's problems. I want the people to devote more time and contribute to the development of the state.

There is much speculation that in the post-poll scenario your party may help the Bharatiya Janata Party to form a government.

There is no truth in such speculation. We are fighting the communal BJP on the one hand and the corrupt Congress on the other. I am confident the United Front will get an absolute majority in the election. We are forming the government and the question of the UF extending support either to the Congress or the BJP does not arise.

But the UF seems to be in a shambles.

As time passes, everything will settle down.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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