BEN­E­FI­CIARY OF BACK­LASH

The poll voices the anger of a peo­ple let down by UPA 2 which has squan­dered its man­date

India Today - - OPINION POLL - T NARAYAN/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

( 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.

NITIN GAD­KARI

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

AP PHOTO

SO­NIA GANDHI

Which of the fol­low­ing is­sues has most ad­versely im­pacted the UPA?

How would you rate So­nia Gandhi’s per­for­mance as Congress pres­i­dent?

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