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October 21, 2007
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Think it Over

October 21, 2007

Page: 33/38

Home > 2007 Issues > October 21, 2007

The Moving Finger Writes

Who will gain if elections are advanced ?

It turned out that the ?popular verdict? was given on the SMS by 375 clicks! If this is not cheating, what else is it? There have been similar reports that the middle classes, which presently constitute almost 45 per cent of India?s population of 1.2 billion, are in favour of the Agreement, but that is a mere guesswork.

There is no question that the UPA government is in a grave trouble. In the first place it is run by a coalition divided against itself. The CPM has made it perfectly clear that if the Congress insists on operationalising the 123 Agreement, the Prime Minister may go the way of Tony Blair of Britain and Shinzo Abe of Japan. The party itself is in tatters over the Ram Sethu issue with one Congress leader Jayaram Ramesh demanding the resignation of Congress Minister Ambika Soni.

For all the brouhaha raised over the nuclear agreement it is clear, if the former Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh is to be believed, that the majority of MPs are not with the UPA. The high-level propaganda blitz that the UPA government with the open and demeaning support of a select group of media people, has taken it nowhere. The UPA has been trying every trick of the trade to befool the people. One leading newspaper was even persuaded to run a sham poll. And a front-page report in its August 21 issue under the brazen heading: ?Overwhelming 93 per cent support nuclear deal? said that for the first time there is a popular verdict on the Indo-US nuclear deal. It added: ?To a question put to its readers whether they felt the deal was in India?s interests or not, a landslide 93 per cent majority felt it indeed was?. It turned out that the ?popular verdict? was given on the SMS by 375 clicks! If this is not cheating, what else is it? There have been similar reports that the middle classes which presently constitute almost 45 per cent of India?s population of 1.2 billion are in favour of the agreement, but that is a mere guesswork. Those who would be in favour of the agreement would largely be the elite, contractors like Larsen and Toubro, Hindustan Construction Company and Gammon India in civil aviation, L&T in reactors, Bharat Heavy Engineering Ltd (BHEL) in boilers, KSB, Kirloskar Brothers, Mather and Platt, Jyoti Ltd, in boiler feeder pumps etc and Indian representatives of major US companies like General Electric whose Indian CEO, T.P. Chopra is reported to have told India Knowledge @ Wharton in an interview that the final form of agreement would affect GE?s nuclear power strategy in India.

But which way will the Indian people vote if elections are held in early 2008? Rajiv Gandhi lost his elections on a minor issue such as the charge that he had taken a paltry. sum of Rs 64 crore bribe in the Bofors deal. Is it possible that the vast majority of the electorate know anything about the plusses and minuses of the 123 Agreement so seriously and in depth either to support the government or to throw it out?

For that matter, can the Ram Sethu issue serve as a cause celebre for dethroning Dr Manmohan Singh? On September 2, The Week published a poll conducted under its own auspices and that of C-Voter which said that if elections are held now?meaning sometime in early September?the Left Front which has now a 60-member block in the Lok Sabha might get a severe drubbing and be reduced to a tally of 38 seats. According to the survey, the UPA might collect 172 to 192 seats while the NDA?s kitty might be about the same, 178 to 198 seats. The expectation was that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will garner 45 to 55 seats with the fledgling UNPA capturing between 44 and 54 seats. As The Week put it, ?A handshake between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BSP leader Mayavati followed by a wooing of others (like the UNPA) could drive the CPM into political vanavas.? If we are to believe the survey, 42 per of voters think that if elections are held ?now? (this was before the Ram Sethu issue raised its head) Congress and its allies without the Left Front will come to power with BJP and its allies appealing only to 19 per cent voters. Said The Week: ?With the UPA sitting pretty with newer allies like Trinamool, the NDA trying to replenish its stock and the nascent UNPA trying to forge closer ties with the Left, the country could witness a gripping election.? Which is really not saying much. At the same time reports are under circulation that if elections are held ?soon? the Congress will come to power all on its own, without any outside support, an assessment difficult to take at face value.

Two things need to be taken into consideration in these matters. One is that polls in recent years have come to be seen as utterly unreliable and misleading, as Pramod Mahajan, were he alive, would have certified. It would be highly foolish to take them seriously. The NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee should not have taken private studies of electoral wishes to heart and should not have called for elections ahead of time. ?India Shining? took the shine off the NDA and turned out to be a disaster. The current UPA government does not even have anything comparable to ?India Shining? to show, which could persuade the public to walk into its parlour. So, where do we go from here? Is the Ram Sethu issue comparable to Bofors and sufficiently provocative to entice the public into BJP?s arms? Has Dr Manmohan Singh lost the public confidence? According to The Week C-Voter poll, Vajpayee will make the best Prime Minister (24 per cent), Sonia Gandhi comes next with 22 per cent, with Manmohan Singh coming third with 20 per cent. Does that say anything? The same poll notes 38 per cent of the 6,562 respondents in 20 states consider that the Indo-US nuclear deal is an important election issue whereas 33 per cent don?t agree to that. What is significant is that 63 per cent think that an important issue is the stability of the government and if that is true, then the NDA has only to press hard to convince the public that the UPA has turned out to be a total failure. It would have a point.

Three scenarios are envisaged. Scenario one notes that the UPA can form a government with its own tally of between 172 and 192 seats along with the BSP (45-55 seats) and ?others? (26-36 seats) for a total of between 243 and 283 seats. Very iffy. Scenario two envisages an NDA victory with the coalition capturing 178 to 198 seats, the Third Front 44 and 54 seats and ?others? 26 to 36 seats to make a total of 248 to 288 seats. The third scenario is too imprecise to merit mention. So, if elections are held soon, who will capture the boat?s rudder? At this point in time, it is any body?s guess. But the Congress being in poor shape and the BJP on its way to recovery, the balance can possibly tilt in the latter?s favour. Possibly. The BJP can understandably use the Hindu?Ram Sethu?card to great effect. It now seems to have the upper hand. But it will be a brave man to jump to any conclusions. That said, all is said.

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