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No anti-establishment sentiment: Naidu

By Y. Mallikarjun

HYDERABAD, MAY 8. The Telugu Desam president, N. Chandrababu Naidu, has maintained that there was no anti-establishment sentiment against the State Government but admitted that his party's electoral prospects might have been affected by the free power promise and Opposition propaganda.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu here on Saturday, he claimed that the TDP would return to power for the third time by bagging 160-180 seats. Asked about the reduction in the seats projected as compared to 180 seats it had won in 1999, Mr. Naidu attributed it to the severe drought and said that the public might have been influenced by the promises made by the "irresponsible opposition".

Referring to the free power promise, he charged the Opposition with placing "personal and political interests" above the State's interest. The Congress had not offered free power in any of the States ruled by it and even their own MP, Priyaranjan Das Munshi, had wanted a national debate on it.

He too could have made "unrealistic promises" but had not done so, in the long-term interest of the State. He said power sector reforms were crucial for the development of the State and it would "collapse" if tinkered with.

He said the TDP-BJP combine would win a "majority" of the 42 Lok Sabha seats and maintained that the assembly results would prove his repeated claim that there was an anti-Opposition wave.

Mr. Naidu said the "scientifically carried out" survey by his own agencies in the last three months had shown that his party would romp home. Criticising the exit polls, he said they were based on small samples and had "lost credibility" the moment they mentioned only six Lok Sabha seats for the TDP. "Even my worst critic may not say that," he added. The TDP got feedback from the 294 constituencies, to re-orient the policies of both the Government and the party and to find out areas which needed improvement.

The TDP leader reiterated that his party would continue to support the NDA saying there were "no second thoughts". He was confident that NDA would get majority and retain power. He dismissed the possibility of a hung Parliament and the non-NDA parties faring better than the NDA as "hypothetical".

He also refuted the charge that his Government had neglected the farming sector and asserted that the drought was tackled "very effectively". He said 55-lakh metric tonnes of rice was distributed under the Food for Work programme, took up watershed programme in a big way, gave five per cent subsidy on agricultural loans. "We gave the maximum input subsidy on fertilizers, pesticides and seeds." As a result of the measures taken by the Government, the State achieved highest production in various crops, including cotton, pulses, maize. He also dismissed as Opposition propaganda the charge that his Government had neglected rural areas and said that as many as 50,000 school buildings, rural roads, drinking water augmentation and other infrastructure facilities were taken up in the rural areas. A sum of Rs. 1100 crores was spent on irrigation in the last nine years and the ayacut developed was equivalent to what was achieved in the last 50 years.

Maintaining that there was no question of a re-look at reforms, he said the lot of the poor and farmers, as also the backward areas should be improved through the efficiency brought about by the reforms.

In regard to ticket distribution, he said he was satisfied that he had delivered social justice. "I have fielded 63 candidates of the Backward Classes and also gave 50 seats for women."

Asked about media reports that he was in contact with leaders of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, he dismissed it, saying, ``We are having some values. Power is not important. Ultimate aim is only to do better service to the people."

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