Thursday, November 15, 2012

MOOD OF THE NATION: AMID THE GLOOM, HOPE


There are no shades of grey here. The BJP is now tarred with same black that the Congress has been for the last few years. Nitin Gadkari – his innocence or otherwise notwithstanding -- has hurt his party badly, as the latest Hindustan Times survey indicates. Yes, the survey most likely has a not-so-subtle spin in favour of the Congress since the paper is owned by a Congress MP and has on its staff journalists and on its rolls columnists who sound like unofficial spokespersons of the party. That deviation factored in, the message for the BJP -- consistent with the findings of other surveys -- is chilling. Yet, paradoxically, in these gloomy findings, there is hope.


Thanks to the series of stupendous scams that Sonia Gandhi’s government has been mired in, and the selfless efforts of many, the most respected being Anna Hazare (65% see him as the best anti-corruption crusader), corruption has become a key electoral issue, with the image of politicians too having taken a serious beating: 64.7% of those polled blame them most for it. This one issue has the potential to spell doom for the Congress party. Provided – and this is crucial -- there is a real alternative that is demonstrably clean and uncompromised.

This is where, as every survey shows, BJP has altogether missed the bus that Congress has left free for it to ride home.

This realisation, no surprise, has not yet dawned on the leadership of the BJP and also a section of the chatterati. Some, in fact, lament that BJP is needlessly paying the price for adopting higher standards of integrity – a party with a difference - while a brazen Congress keeps romping home, and want it to get off that pedestal and into the pit that Congress is in and wrestle with it there in the mud of corruption.

Most Indians understand and have resigned to the ways of the Congress party, a know demon. With BJP, it is different. When a woman marries a philanderer, eyes wide shut, she is not shocked by his infidelities; she accepts them and lives with them. But when she marries one who solemnly says he is the faithful kind, and later finds him romping like and with the philanderer, the betrayal of faith comes as a blow, and she punishes him.

This is the key reason why BJP has not benefitted from the huge 8% swing away from Congress. As per the ABP-Neilson survey held in August 2012, the swing for the BJP then was an insignificant 1%. As per NDTV poll, even at that time there was close competition for the 'more corrupt' slot between the two parties, with the Congress ahead 54:46.

Subsequent revelations about BJP’s collusive Omerta on Sonia, Rahul and Vadra, and the expose-generated perception that Gadkari is corrupt, have evaporated even the narrow advantage that the BJP had over the Congress a few months back. In fact if the Hindustan Times survey is accurate, the Congress has, shockingly, taken a healthy 3.8% lead -- 32 to 28.3 -- over the BJP as the party best equipped to steer the country through the present crisis. The liar is, naturally, being punished more than the philanderer.

Now comes what seems to be a paradox, but is actually a clear, loud message that everyone – Congress, BJP, media – is pretending to not hear. In the leadership sweepstakes, Narendra Modi, who took pole position last year, continues to race ahead of all challengers across parties. As per the ABP-Nielson survey in May this year, Modi at 17%, led Dr Manmohan Singh narrowly by 1%, as the best leader. In August, the India Today poll showed him as the choice of 21%, way ahead of Rahul in the second spot with 10%, for the PM's job. As per the latest Hindustan Times survey, the increasingly popular Modi is now at the top with 24.1%, Sonia surging surprisingly to the second spot with 16.4%.

Given the party affiliation of the paper, it is safe to assume that there is an underplaying of Modi’s popularity. Sonia’s surge in the wake of the revelations about the National Herald properties that she and Rahul Gandhi have allegedly grabbed, and the great land grab of her son-in-law Robert Vadra, is simply unbelievable. Viewed in conjunction with the fact that Rahul has been pushed to the fourth spot, it suggests that a desperate Congress is planning to head into the next general elections with Sonia, and not the failed Rahul, as the party’s main mascot, if not PM candidate. Here lies a huge opportunity for the principal opposition party which, perplexingly, still seems determined to make a hash of it and add one more to the score of its many famous self-goals.

There’s another extremely significant finding in the Hindustan Times survey. 55.7% believe coalition leads to more corruption. In fact, but for 31.4% who feel it is more inclusive and 16% with no view (not to be added), a vast number are of the opinion that coalition politics adversely affects decision making one way or another. This exasperation is further confirmed by the finding that while 32% and 28% prefer a Congress and BJP government respectively, only 3.8% and 1.7% want to see a Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA. Other smaller parties too stand similarly rejected.

The above findings taken together give a reasonably clear picture of what much of middle class urban India is saying :
  •  Top leaders of Congress are far more popular than central leaders of BJP, Advani included.
  • Modi, a leader with difference, is distinct from his party that started out with that slogan.
  • There is no enthusiasm for a Third Front government.
  • A single-party government is preferred by most.
  • Congress and Modi-less BJP are the choice of despair of an India without an alternative.
  • Modi is the choice of hope of an aspirational India that wants delivery, not doles.
It is worth remembering that despite the monumental failure of BJP’s national leaders to project the party as a clean and clear alternative to a rotting Congress, support for the party is not as abysmal as their own popularity only because there is an expectation that Modi will lead the party into the elections and become PM. If he is sidelined, as some party men have been and are still trying to ensure, and an unpopular leaderless clique become the party’s face, it will most likely be routed, and may find itself in a deep hole with not many more than fifty seats. Congress will then be the unintended beneficiary and will most likely come back to power, though with fewer seats.

Tarnished Congress is in no position to win enough support to form a single-party government that people, fed up of coalition politics, want to see. Under the present circumstances, only a Modi-led BJP can realistically take a serious shot at it. A historic opportunity knocks. It needs to be welcomed and embraced. The moment BJP seeks a clear mandate, and, as a consequence, decides to go it alone wherever it has a chance -- beginning with Bihar -- the whole dynamics of the elections will get positively electrified overnight.
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Like Delhi 1984, Gujarat 2002 is a huge issue primarily in TV studios and for the cottage industry that have milked Sonia and, in the process, helped Modi emerge unscathed through an agnipariksha that no leader has ever been put through, not even Indira Gandhi after the dark Emergency; Rajiv, of course, was given a Bharat Ratna.

The prejudiced and the purchased will not see it, and they will go on shouting as they have been. But the people, as the surveys show, have silently and closely watched every single step of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and are seeing the future he will deliver for India through what he already has in Gujarat. They know which button they have to press on the EVM. Will the blind men of BJP let them? Or will we see yet another sordid, debilitating battle between the Bad and the Ugly?
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