BENEFICIARY OF BACKLASH
The poll voices the anger of a people let down by UPA 2 which has squandered its mandate
( against its actual 259 in 2009), is trailing behind NDA, whose tally stands at a respectable 195- 205 ( as against its actual 159). For the first time in three years, NDA has marched significantly past the ruling alliance, and this surge in popular urge for an alternative is further accentuated by BJP emerging as a party of governance. At long last, BJP has succeeded in regaining its space in north India, though Karnataka, its sole citadel in the south, is crumbling. This is the Congress’s only cause for cheer beyond the Vindhyas.
Key oxygen- suppliers of UPA are also struggling. An anti- Mulayam Singh sentiment is already swelling up in Uttar Pradesh, where his dynastic succession has obviously gone awry: 15 per cent of those who voted for the Samajwadi Party in the last Assembly elections have switched their loyalty to BJP, which has gained a further 11 per cent from the Congress. The ground is slipping from under the politically tender feet of Akhilesh Yadav. In Tamil Nadu, much to the frustration of DMK and Congress, the cardboard kitsch of Amma is still an electoral bestseller. Though there have been many twists and turns in the family political plot of M. Karunanidhi, the most venerable scriptwriter of Tamil Nadu could not come up with a slogan that would lift his party from the rut it was stuck in in 2011. Here too, Congress is the bigger loser: 16 per cent of its last Assembly elections voters have moved to DMK. Mamata Banerjee seems to be the only
Congress ally who continues to preserve her fortress intact. Power has not diminished her aura, even if it has made her tantrums more frequent.
The provinces have clarity. The Congress has made itself almost irrelevant in Andhra Pradesh by institutionalising the politics of witchhunt: A 64 per cent in the state see the CBI inquiry into the case of Jagan Mohan Reddy’s disproportionate wealth as political vendetta. His YSR Congress may emerge as the largest party in the Lok Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh. And 47 per cent of those who voted for the Congress in the 2009 Assembly elections have abandoned the party and gone to YSR Congress, which, along with Telangana Rashtra Samithi, will get more than half of the votes if Assembly elections were held today. In Gujarat, the Congress has failed to make any dent in the popularity of Narendra Modi. The Congress is likely to lose a couple of seats from its tally of 11 in the last General Elections. The news from Maharashtra and Rajasthan is equally dismal. Their revival in Karnataka owes more to the suicidal politics of the local BJP leadership than to the imagination of the Congress. If the Congress does not have a single leader who can sway the popular mind in the states, it is a story of stagnation at the Centre. This survey is a referendum on UPA 2, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s transformation from an icon to an embarrassment is now complete. That was in another age, when in a melodrama played out in the Central Hall of Parliament, a triumphant but sentimental Sonia Gandhi, defying the wailing legion of sycophants, chose the most apolitical of them all as prime minister.
In his first term, Manmohan Singh, with his reassuring calm and professorial gravitas, lived up to his image as the wise man of the East at global high tables. At home, his so- called inexperience in the dark arts of realpolitik was his selling point in a coalition
dominated by seasoned political beasts. His second coming as Prime Minister was disastrous. Today, what was once said about the anodyne British prime minister John Major fits the man perfectly: He is still in office but not in power. Paradoxically, the high point of his politics, the elections of 2009, also turned out to be an invitation to disaster.
And how. More than half of respondents say the Prime Minister has been a huge letdown, failing to live up to the expectations he raised in 2009. Nearly 50 per cent think he has shielded the corrupt to save his own chair. He heads a government which in popular perception has failed on all fronts: Economic reforms, controlling inflation, and overall performance. This only proves how Manmohan, who as P. V. Narasimha Rao’s finance minister in the 1990s set the country on the path of economic liberalisation with his market vision, has unmade himself in the span of three years. This
is an irony he might want to forget: The lost sheen of India’s growth story is matched by the total fadeout of the overrated moderniser. Predictably, in a government that has lost moral accountability, a majority of the respondents perceive the performance of the Prime Minister and several senior ministers such as P. Chidambaram, Sharad Yadav and A. K. Antony to be “average”. There is no teflon left on the Prime Minister’s persona to withstand the public indictment of his government that has made corruption its defining trait.
That said, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress’s prime minister- in- waiting, doesn’t fetch the numbers to ease the desperation of his party establishment. More than 40 per cent may consider Rahul Gandhi as the Congress’s best bet for the top job, but he is still not India’s choice. He is a distant number two as Modi continues to keep his lead as the most popular prime ministerial candidate. The problem with Rahul is that he chooses to remain a permanent work in progress, though the work itself is far from in-
spiring. For a party that dreads the daylight beyond the sheltering shadow of the dynasty, Rahul will remain its political Peter Pan. Why he is not the popular choice in a demographically youthful nation is perhaps explained by his idea of power itself. He does not want to be sullied by the rigours of responsibility— or led by the power of ideas. Power for him rhymes with entitlement.
Above the redundant Prime Minister and the reluctant prince looms the Empress Dowager of 10 Janpath, still the ultimate source of power in UPA 2. Forty- five per cent of respondents think Sonia should have replaced Manmohan to save the discredited government. But Mrs Gandhi has long ago realised the virtues of being a power without a throne. A throne brings blame.
As the survey shows, the Congress is no longer considered the best equipped to solve the crises of India. Nor is it the party of the poor and unemployed. It has proved its inability to lead a stable coalition as well. The gainer is BJP, which scores in all categories of governance and political management. India, however, is not sure about who should lead BJP. This is an altogether different kind of leadership problem. The Congress is saddled with a stale leadership. NDA has too many contenders.
Narendra Modi has not surrendered his position as the number one choice as possible prime minister, an acknowledgement of his stellar record in development. But beyond such popularity charts lie the faultlines of coalition politics. The fact that a majority of respondents in this survey cannot name the Leader of Opposition in Parliament and that more than 40 per cent give only an average rating to Nitin Gadkari’s performance as president of BJP may warm Modi’s heart. On the eventual day of reckoning, though, the Gujarat chief minister will have to reconcile to the reality that the prime minister question has to be settled not by BJP alone but NDA as a whole. In 1999, there was no alternative to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In
2014, there may be too many.
The poll throws up a few underrated success stories that may not have earned as many headlines in the national media as the flamboyance of Brand Modi did. Madhya Pradesh is one state where the popularity of BJP looks unassailable— a tribute to the quiet but solid leadership of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. In Rajasthan, the Congress regime is in its death throes. There is a 14 per cent swing towards NDA, which is likely to get at least a majority of Lok Sabha seats if General Elections are held now, conceding only 5- 10 seats to the Congress. This is as much a reflection of the corrupt Ashok Gehlot regime as it is an indication of the fighting spirit of BJP’s feisty leader Vasundhara Raje. The selfdestructive circus of B. S. Yeddyurappa in Karnataka is an exception. BJP has emerged as the sum total of its parts, a federal party strengthened by the dynamism of its state leaders.
At the centre, the looming tower is still spelt Lal Krishna Advani. In the people’s choice of the possible BJP prime minister, the eldest statesman of the Indian Right is a contender even now, below Modi but above his protégés from the Generation Next. This leader won’t wither away. He may not be the Usain Bolt of political sprint but his sinews are made for a marathon.
Which party will best solve the problems of the country?
Which party is most concerned about the problems of the poor?
Which party is most capable of leading a stable coalition?
Rate the performance of BJP as the Opposition party
Rate Nitin Gadkari’s performance as BJP chief
Rate the performance of UPA in the past three years
Which of the following issues has most adversely impacted the UPA?
How would you rate Sonia Gandhi’s performance as Congress president?