Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is leading the United Democratic Front's campaign against the Left in Kerala, tells DENNIS MARCUS MATHEW that he is sure about the UDF's victory.
Less than a week for the poll. How do you see it going in Kerala?
I have been touring the State for the last one week, covering most districts and meeting a cross-section of people. The UDF has a clear edge. Ours won't be a normal victory, but one in quite comfortable terms.
In what way will a new UDF government, if formed, be different?
Settling political scores or victimisation certainly won't be on the UDF agenda. The main thrust will be on development. Kerala has lost five years. I will not say there has been no development, but whatever has happened is only normal and not what could have been. India has gone several miles ahead, with the science and technology and allied sectors booming at a time when about 60 lakh non-resident Keralites are working in these sectors. But what has their home-State gained?
Kerala, under the UDF, will be made a major investment destination. The Kerala model, which was in demand earlier, became outdated in the last five years.
We have to come back with a new development model, a revival of the famed Kerala model in a new shape. That, we will do, without giving it any political hue.
Do you think continuity of the government of a particular front, like the Left says now, is crucial for development?
Certainly. There has been no consistency in our development, with the regular reversal of policies every five years and lack of consensus on developmental issues. Continuity should be there, but not that of the Left. The best example that the Left's development model is the current situation in West Bengal, where they ruled for 35 years. Is West Bengal the top State in the country? There lies the answer.
There have been reports on the UDF offering cycles and solar lamps as poll freebies on the lines of laptops and television sets in Tamil Nadu. Is that a healthy trend?
I'm not sure whether the UDF is doing that. But whoever does that, it is an unhealthy practice. Moreover, in Kerala, it will be counter-productive. Kerala is a polarised State with both the fronts here having consolidated vote-banks. But neutral voters always determine who rules. And they do it on the basis of merit and performance. Those who do not perform are sent to political exile, like we were sent five years back. Voters are increasingly having performance-oriented preferences, and freebies will not be encouraged in this State.
Does the UDF fear V.S. Achuthanandan so much that the Defence Minister himself had to come down to launch an attack on him?
My attacks are not on VS personally. They are on his policies, or rather, his priorities. As the team captain of development, he should have his priorities lined out. Political vengeance and score-settling should be secondary. But he has got it all messed up, often forgetting that he is the Chief Minister and I have many a time felt that he is the Opposition Leader. A Chief Minister should spell out his policies and have a dream of his own for the betterment of the State. Does he have that sort of vision? And no, we are not afraid of him.
There are whispers that you came down also to tackle a backstage tussle for the Chief Ministership, with certain quarters trying to project Ramesh Chennithala over Oommen Chandy.
I will not deny the existence of factionalism in the Congress. Saying we are free of it will be hypocrisy. But it is not on the same scale as earlier. On Chief Ministership, I have clarity and I have no doubt on who will be the next Chief Minister.
But the Congress has certain procedures. The ultimate decision will be taken by the high command and will be announced by the Congress president. And as of now, there are no quarrels; it is going to be a smooth affair.
The 2009 Lok Sabha election and the recent civic body polls saw a minority consolidation against the LDF. Do you think that will be repeated on April 13?
Minority consolidation alone will not decide the results in an election. Both minorities and the majority are crucial. This time, it will not be just a minority consolidation, but a democratic mass public consolidation against the LDF.