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Naidu sees poll threat in Pak cricket

New Delhi, Feb. 4: What does an India-Pakistan cricket series have to do with elections'

Plenty, in . Chandrababu Naidu’s Andhra Pradesh. The chief minister, who expects a tough fight from the Congress, fears the cricket series tentatively scheduled for March-April will hit his party’s prospects with voters staying put at home to watch the contest between bat and ball.

He plans to take up the matter with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Election Commission.

Asked if he wants the cricket series postponed, Naidu said yes. He added that he would “take up the matter with the Centre and the Election Commission”.

A source close to Naidu said the Telugu Desam Party chief feels the cricket may rob him of the “feel-good” factor and keep his cadre and supporters away from polling booths and glued to their television sets instead. A low turnout would badly affect his party during the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

The source said if India were to lose, the “India shining” that the ruling coalition has been proclaiming in a recent media blitz could well become “India mourning”.

Sources said the cricket-related doubts were sowed in Naidu’s mind by a party worker. The chief minister recently began a “Dial your CM” programme for the common people and a “Dial your president” version for the party cadre.

It was at the latter programme that a supporter cautioned Naidu about the adverse effect that cricket might have on the party’s poll prospects. The supporter said he was confident the Desam would retain power, but the low turnout was a worry. The chief minister said he would consider his suggestion.

Earlier, Naidu had separate one-on-one meetings with the Prime Minister and his deputy, L.K. Advani, at which he sought their help in clearing a number of projects before the elections.

The chief minister’s wish list included clearance for a project inter-linking the Godavari and Krishna, exhibition of the Nizam’s jewels — currently in an RBI locker — in Hyderabad, drought relief programmes, 50 per cent subsidy for minor irrigation projects, micro-irrigation with Israeli collaboration, an international airport at Hyderabad and more para military forces for the elections.

He later said the Desam would continue to provide outside support to the BJP-led NDA at the Centre, ruling out for now any move to join the coalition after the elections.

“We will continue to give outside support to the NDA and are confident that NDA at the Centre and TDP in Andhra Pradesh would return to power,” Naidu said.

Asked if seat-sharing and related matters were discussed at his meetings, he said: “These have not yet been discussed. But there is a feel good factor that is being experienced in the country.”

Slamming the Congress, Naidu said the party was in retreat. “There is no confidence because of Sonia Gandhi. Even in their party there is no confidence. (A) hundred crore population will not accept a foreigner,” he said.

When a reporter cited the instance of D. Venkateshwara Rao, the elder son-in-law of .T. Rama Rao and asked why Desam leaders including his family members, were joining the Congress, Naidu lost his cool. He thundered that Rao was in the BJP, adding: “You should know how to ask questions.”

Even though his own brother, Ramamurthy Naidu, has recently joined the Congress, the chief minister fumed: “We are not worried about family members. It is an irrelevant question. Do not mislead. Those who go to the Congress are desperate.”

The Desam chief would not say how many seats his party would share with the BJP, saying the details will be revealed after the poll notification is issued.

Naidu said the proposed Telengana Rashtra Samiti-Congress alliance would not affect his party.

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