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January 24, 1998


The Rediff Election Encounter/ Sharad Pawar

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'I don't think Sonia will contest the election'

Savera R Someshwar caught up with Sharad Pawar after Sonia Gandhi's rally in Nandurbar. This is what the Congress leader said:

Why did Sonia Gandhi come to Nandurbar?

She wanted to reach out to the tribals. This area has been emotionally attached to the Nehru-Gandhi family for a very long time. Indira Gandhiji came here in 1976. Rajiv Gandhi campaigned here in 1989.

Also, when the AICC asked me to recommend some areas in Maharashtra that Soniaji could cover, this was one of the areas I had suggested.

Is there a pattern behind the places Sonia Gandhi visits?

It is the AICC which decides where Soniaji will go. They are the ones who suggests the places to her.

But why has she selected these particular places?

I don't know. You should ask the AICC that. But I think she is trying to cover as many different kind of areas as possible. This was a predominantly tribal area -- Bangalore was cosmopolitan, etc. And she will visit Bombay -- it is definitely on her agenda.

How will the Congress fare in the forthcoming election?

There is no doubt about the fact that the Congress will definitely improve its prospects.

Who is the Congress candidate from Pune?

The committee has not yet met to decide that. It will be meeting day after tomorrow. But you can be sure that it will be a strong, intelligent candidate.

What is the Congress attitude towards dissidents? Will they be welcomed into the party?

Those who want to help us are welcome.

Will you contest the election from Pune?

I have not changed my constituency for the last 10 years. This year too, I have requested the committee to let me contest from Baramati. The rest is in their hands.

Where will you campaign for the party?

I am not going too far away from Maharashtra -- just Karnataka, Gujarat, MP, Goa, that's it.

What about your supporters, will they receive tickets?

Everyone who receives a ticket has my support.

When will the Congress release its last list?

On the 26th.

Will Sonia Gandhi contest the election?

I don't think so.

Will Bofors be an issue in this election?

The Congress is going to point out how the Bofors issue has been used as a scam by its opponents. So many non-Congress governments have come to power -- if the Congress was involved, why didn't they do anything about it?

Will the Congress return to power in Maharashtra?

The Congress will improve its position both in Maharashtra and all over India. The people of Maharashtra have seen the BJP-Sena government. I don't think they are satisfied with its performance.

How do you assess the impact of Sonia's visit?

Her visit will definitely improve the Congress position. As far as my personal assessment is concerned, Nandurbar had and will support Indira Gandhi's party. Besides, we have had some very interesting feedback as far as Soniaji's campign visits are concerned.

We had sent people to assess the impact of her visits. And the feedback's very, very interesting (smiles). Unfortunately, we cannot release this information to the press.

What about Nandurbar?

The Adivasis here have always perceived the Nehru-Gandhi family as a champion for the poor; they believe that this is the only family that can improve their lot. They have been emotionally and ideologically attached to the Nehru-Gandhi family for the last 20 years.

Did the size of the crowd satisfy your expectations?


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