Monday, September 3, 2012

Same story in NDTV opinion poll…..Cong down, but BJP fails to make headway

Both the India Today poll and the more recent NDTV poll show that the Congress is on a sharp slide downwards; but the BJP does not appear to be making any strides towards either forming a government with its allies or even reaching its own 182 record of 1999. Why is it that the BJP in spite of – or maybe because of – its wild allegations of corruption against the Congress is failing to build on the Congress’s decline? Several interesting pointers emerge from the NDTV poll.

The first and most important pointer is that in spite of all its efforts to put the noose of corruption on the Congress, the BJP only succeeds partially. For the poll indicates that while 54% people believe the Congress is more corrupt, a close 46% believe the BJP is more corrupt. This is hardly the kind of gap one would expect to see after such a concerted campaign by Anna, Ramdev and the BJP itself. What is going wrong here? Why is the BJP seen to be as corrupt as the Congress? Is it the result of just Karnataka – where the BJP is obviously seen as more corrupt than the Congress – or is it a view formed basis several other factors – including its inability to answer questions on its own conduct during its period of rule while hurling accusations against the Congress?

The second most important pointer is that while the Congress is shown to be losing a whopping 79 seats, the BJP is gaining only 27. That’s just one-third. This in spite of the “national” party status of the BJP. In contrast, a small regional outfit like YSR Congress is shown to be gaining 21 seats in just one state. Now there is ample speculation that the Congress is going to strike a deal in AP. Either with the YSR faction or with TRS. Interestingly, both parties are opposed to tying up with the BJP. Should that happen, the Congress will at least partially cut its losses. But clearly, the BJP is hardly in a position to increase its tally.

The other analysis that is interesting is that in the top six states – that Jaitley rattled off as those where the Congress was losing badly in his recent NDTV interview – the BJP is faring as badly as ever. These are UP (BJP shown to gain just 4 seats), Maharashtra (just 2 seats up), AP (nil), West Bengal (nil), Bihar (one seat down) and TN (nil). That’s a total gain of just 5 seats in all. More importantly, the total strength of the BJP – after these gains – will only be 36 seats out of a total of 290 seats. That’s just one-eighth of the seats. How can a party that fares so poorly in half the country (the top six states account for more than half the total seats) rule the country?

Another interesting finding is that the BJP gains strongly in only two states – Rajasthan and MP. MP is creditable considering that the government there has been in power for so long. Rajasthan is understandable considering its proximity to Delhi where all the recent corruption battles have been fought. Strangely, in Gujarat – where Narendra Modi is pitching for PMship – the BJP gains only one seat. And in Maharashtra, it gains 2 seats. But in Chhatisgarh, it loses 2 seats. So overall, its gain is built on just Rajasthan and MP. Nothing very impressive for a party that is strong only in the West.

The ones who gain really are the regional parties. The SP in UP (up 10 seats), the TMC in WB (up 8 seats), the JD(U) in Bihar (up 5 seats) and the AIADMK in TN (up 8 seats). The SP will never align with the BJP and even if all the others do so with the BJP, they are all unreliable partners; the TMC and AIADMK in particular. Even the JD(U) is making all the wrong noises for the BJP. Given its poor performance in these forecasts, the BJP will have no option but to choose between Modi and JD(U). But that’s easier said than done. If Modi were to be sidelined, he would most likely float a regional party. Just like the Congress has disintegrated over the years, the disintegration of the BJP will begin (and Yeddy could compound the problems even more). Strong regional satraps may have their advantages for the party, but the disadvantages are many too!

Net Net….its not a happy situation for the country. The UPA may well be out of power; but the formation that comes to power will in all likelihood be a disaster. India has never seen a period like this. In the past – both in 1990-91 during VP Singh and Chandrashekhar’s tenures and between 1996-98 during Vajpayee, Devegowda and Gujral’s tenures – the political instability happened within the same Lok Sabha – 9th and 11th respectively. This is the first time when two successive Lok Sabhas (15th and the 16th) could be ridden by instability. The impact lasts far longer. If the 16th lasts its full tenure, that will mean nearly ten years of political instability. Truly a disaster for India. Truly a threat to its global ambitions. This is perhaps why S&P and other ratings agencies are so worried about India.

The Congress has less than two years to steady its ship. Its easily doable. In the past, the Kargil war saved the day for a sinking BJP in 1999. More recently, the Indo-US nuclear deal saved it for the Congress. The ball is in Congress’s court. What will it do? My bet: the opening up of the retail sector to FDI. It helps both the farmers (800 million) and the urban middle-class (jobs, shopping environment, visible progress). It could as well be the Land Acquisition bill and the Food Security – but both of these need to pass through Parliament and that’s going to be a challenge. It could even be a decent Lokpal Bill. Or it could be a fiscally imprudent but politically wise subsidy like NREGA. And finally, it can be a dream budget that Chidambaram presents next year. Anything is possible…..but for anything to happen, the Congress needs the will to make it happen. More than anything else, that’s what appears broken. More than anything else, that’s what the BJP has successfully extracted in the last couple of years.

The real truth is that its really gloomy times now for India. Neither party is going to emerge strong enough to rule with authority. The regional satraps will rule themselves or dictate terms to the bigger parties. For the country’s good, let’s hope that one of the two national parties emerges stronger in the coming year or so….

PS: I must repeat. I don’t believe much in these polls because they have been shown to be wrong in the past

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