In politics, as one-time British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said, a week is too long and anything can happen between now and April-end to make or mar the fortunes of the BJP or the Congress. He is wise in politics who never takes anything for granted. The advice one can give to the BJP would be: take no prediction seriously until the last vote has been cast and the last vote has been counted. Most opinion polls have lost their credibility. Success depends not on popular polls but on party record and public perceptions. Having said that, one still cannot ignore predictions made, whether by astrologers or by the media. And the predictions are that the BJP will win as it did in 1999 and by a little larger margin.
Critics in the media have all but given in. Even former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral has conceded that ?if we look at India'sprogress, we can say it is really satisfactory?. He told an audience in Jalandhar that he supports the ?India Shining? and ?Feel Good Factor? slogans of the BJP-led NDA government. Not so long ago an India Today poll had given the BJP a substantial lead. Now an Outlook-MDRA poll (March 15) predicts that the NDA coalition ?should be home and dry? with 280-290 Lok Sabha seats while the Congress and its allies lag behind with between 159 and 169 seats. Says Outlook: ?Within the NDA, the BJP'stally is likely to go up from 182 to 195, while the allies? strength will be proportionately trimmed. The Congress-led alliance will improve its showing from 154 to 164 seats. But no credit to the Congress, which will sink to its worst-ever electoral performance, a mere 103, down from even the dismal 114 it won in 1999.?
Significantly, Atal Behari Vajpayee'sratings have gone up, while, in contrast, Sonia Gandhi remains less acceptable than her party. According to the poll, the Congress gets 37 per cent of the vote but Sonia is favoured by only 26 per cent of the respondents. One of the reasons for the deterioration of Congress strength is Muslim disappointment with the party. There are growing signs that Muslims have become disillusioned with the self-proclaimed secular party. A poll was conducted by The Times of India between March 1 and 3. The results, said the paper, ?show enormous support for Vajpayee-led BJP?. Against 57 per cent of respondents who plumped for the BJP, only 27 per cent tilted strongly towards the Congress. While Vajpayee was endorsed by 60 per cent of people polled as the ideal PM, only 20 per cent pitched for Sonia Gandhi.
And significantly, Hindustan Times, which has little or no sympathy for the BJP, published an article (March 5) that said: ?The BJP is the only party willing to address the problems facing Muslim Indians.? What is even more interesting, reports indicate that Muslims are increasingly seen as willing to concede Rama janmasthal in Ayodhya towards building a temple on the site. The times are changing. The question, meanwhile, arises: Why has the Congress lost ground? The plain and simple answer is that it no more represents the soul of the country. It allowed the Leftists to take over its space. It misunderstood the essential aspect of Hinduism, which is acceptance of all faiths, and tried to paint it as ?communal?, which enraged a substantial segment of the Hindu populace.
In its criticism, whether of Hindutva or the BJP, the Congress did not know where to draw the Laxman-rekha. It is paying for its folly. One can only say that it has poor advisers. Mushirul Hasan, the historian may not be entirely correct when he says: ?What ails the Congress is not Sonia. Even if she came from Madurai in Kanjeevaram and wore tilak on her forehead, it would make no difference. The people who?ve been in the Congress for 50 years, where are they? They have become sleeping beauties.? Indeed, where are they? But who are these people who have been in the party for fifty years? P.V. Narasimha Rao? He was marginalised a long time ago. Are we talking about people like Kapil Sibal or Natwar Singh? They don'tamount to a row of beans. Sharad Pawar is not a Congressman. He is not now; he never was ever. Pawar has only one thought in mind: power and he has always been willing to ditch any party to attain it. So, the only person Sonia has in her favour is, well, Sonia. She couldn'tbear to have Najma Heptullah coming from a distinguished family of three generations of Congresswallahs anywhere near her. On the other hand, Najma told the media she was frequently insulted by Sonia. Here was a woman-and a Muslim woman at that-who had stood by Indira Gandhi during the split of 1969 and again in 1977 when the opportunists abandoned her, had stood by Rajiv Gandhi and still later by Sonia herself and then being treated like an utter stranger.
Academic writer Ashis Nandy put it straight when he wrote: ?Sonia has proved to be a very ordinary leader. Parties have to be energised by internal democracy, but she has not given representation to the people with an electoral base. Manmohan Singh or Ambika Soni, these are people who cannot get anyone elected.? Manmohan Singh is an economist, not a politician. He deserves to be a Rajya Sabha member but no one will ever come to hear him if he is billed to address a public meeting in Chennai or Shivaji Park, Mumbai. The Congress, in fact, has no national leaders. As the sociologist Dipankar Gupta put it: ?Nehru'sagenda was pro-active: self-reliance, non-alignment, mixed economy. Indira had garibi hatao and the Bangladesh war. Rajiv said he?d take India into the 21st century. The only thing distinguishing Sonia from the pack is her foreignness.? That is cruelly put. But true. In her public utterances she is aggressive. That doesn'tgo well with the masses. Nobody has taught her to be persuasive, mass friendly. It is as if a foreigner is berating Indians; that can'tendear her to the people. Any people. The saddest part of it all is that no one knows what the Congress stands for. As one wit has remarked, the BJP has ?stolen? the Congress agenda and is doing famously with it. The BJP is no more overtly concerned with Article 370 dealing with the status of Jammu and Kashmir. It has put the resolution of the Ayodhya dispute over the back burner.
Its concern now is about supplying the people with good roads, good water and round-the-clock electricity. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has even gone to the extent of regretting the Gujarat riots as unfortunate. Congress-and Sonia Gandhi-have a long way to go before they can get anywhere close to the BJP. But it is only when the elections are over, the smoke has cleared and the view is open that Congressmen can see things clearly. Whether after experiencing a humiliating defeat the Congress would still want to work under dynastic captaincy is for the Congress to decide. But the reader should not jump to conclusions. May is still a long way away. Right now it seems the future is beckoning the BJP and that should come as no surprise to anyone.
Congress no more represents the soul of the country. It allowed the Leftists to take over its space. It misunderstood the essential aspect of Hinduism, which is acceptance of all faiths, and tried to paint it as ?communal? which enraged a substantial segment of the Hindu populace.