The Indian voter has always been bountiful to the underdog. He hates to miss an opportunity to punish the haughty establishment that takes him for granted. He is not enticed or misled by propaganda, which money can buy. The Congress and its track-II campaigners in the media predicted an easy win for the incumbents even before the first vote was cast. After three rounds of the Lok Sabha poll it is an entirely different story.
At Rs. 35 for a kilo of rice, Rs. 30 for a kilo of sugar, Rs. 25 for wheat flour, Rs. 80 for pulses, edible oil at Rs. 120 per litre, and vegetable items at Rs 40 to 80 for a kilo, depending on ones taste, it is not easy for the ruling party to win an election.
But a senior Congress leader was so confident of forming the next government that he told this writer that the UPA will form the government just because the Congress has enough money this time. His logic was like this?Last time we were without enough money even to pay the electricity bill of our central office. We never expected to make it to the top. But this time round the scene has changed. We have funds to manage up to a hundred members. He was not being arrogant or boastful. But as a matter of fact he stated, ?My dear friend, Congress is not like your party. We know how to keep power and use it.? I am not disputing this ingenuity of the oldest party in the country.
The mood, however, is anti-Congress in the countryside. But the voter is suspicious of the tricks the Congress is capable of employing. Many people express their reservation on the electronic voting machines. For instance, there were hundreds of complaints from Orissa on the manipulation or malfunctioning of the voting machines in the polling booths. Are these manageable? they ask. One cannot be sure. But the overall trend is anti-Congress. So what is the prediction? The most knowledgeable and the wise will not tread this area. But there are compulsive mood-gazers like this writer who indulge in the adventure of gauging the electorate.
To me it looks like the Congress is meeting its Waterloo in all its traditional strongholds and it is not making any major inroads into the NDA turfs. Whereas the NDA led by LK Advani is holding on, if not improving in all the places where it fared better in the 2004 poll, and is making heady gains in the states which blessed the Congress in the last election. The fall of the Congress is more discernable than the gains the BJP is making because the fall is steeper. The game changers in this election are going to be Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
This is not psephology. In fact, the professional pollsters are refusing to stick their neck out. Only the brash and beautiful in the service of the dispensation are brazen enough to project all the emerging poll outcome as tailor-made for a repeat incumbency of the Sonia-Manmohan team. After talking to a cross section of political field workers and an extensive coverage of the country'selectoral canvass one is struck by a definite undercurrent that is bound to influence the outcome of the 15th Lok Sabha poll.
There is a widespread desire for change. Equally striking is the admiration for the NDA prime ministerial candidate LK Advani for his long and dedicated political career. His qualities as a great campaigner and mobiliser of mass support, and his stamina for sustained hard work have impressed the voter. He scores over all his rivals on parameters of competence, integrity and experience. And it is a general feeling that he deserves the job more than anybody else. This is going to be one of the main factors to clinch the issue in his favour. This positive factor notwithstanding, the outcome is going to be influenced more by negative factors for the Congress. A negative vote for UPA is on the cards.
In this Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is proving the deadly voter repellant for the Congress Party. The consensus is that the man is not up to the job. The BJP leader Arun Jaitley deserves a salute for his eloquent description of the Congress election campaign as a ?family melodrama?. Nineteenth-century nostalgia of knighthood as birthright is too out of place in the new era. Time, perhaps, is not ripe for a political ramp walk in grandmother'sdesigner sari. The pining for the long nose up in the air might enthuse friendly adulation on the idiot box but not enthrall teeming millions deceived by economic meltdown. See, the low turnout in Amethi after a fortnight-long hysteric family tear-jerker in hot summer mid-days.
The fact that even after sharing power all these years together, the UPA partners are sniping and under-cutting each other in the election fray is the biggest undoing of the anti-BJP rump. Is it a credible show on election eve? Their crass opportunism has come into focus during election time. They were?in fact they are?still ministers under Manmohan Singh. But they are openly bidding for other partners. All have thrown their hat in the ring for prime ministership. In public, in numerous election rallies, these ministers are attacking the government which they still continue to be part of. Look at the volley of funny scenarios and combinations their track-II campaigners are promoting in the media. Neither public good, nor ideology is the issue. They talk as if being in power is an end in itself. This has created a voter revulsion for the UPA. Its major failures on the governance side are magnified by this single-minded greed for power.
You have to marry ambition with mission to connect to the voter. The NDA in sharp contrast comes up as a purposeful combine that stood the test of being out of power.
The mistake of most of our media analysts is in not sensing a national desire for stability, dependability and good governance. People are looking for credible, workable and honest alternative that has the leadership and talent pool to take the country out of the mess of economic mayhem.
The BJP manifesto in this context scores over the rivals. Can the Congress escape the wrath of the common man for imposing the most corrupt, immoral and incompetent government since Independence? Psephologists who were predicting multiple scenarios suggesting the inevitability of a Congress government are having second thoughts.
The good news for the BJP is that it has almost retained its supremacy in the states where it gained maximum seats in the 14th Lok Sabha. These include, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Karnataka. In states like Gujarat, Bihar, and Maharashtra the BJP and its allies are making remarkable gains. It is gaining ground also in Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Jharkhand.
The Congress on the other hand is facing its worst-ever defeat in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The party'sonly solace is likely to come from the Left Front-ruled states like Kerala and West Bengal and Orissa where it is certain to gain from the BJP-BJD split. Naveen Patnaik is on the back foot here and he is bound to rue the decision to part ways with the BJP. The Congress and its allies together had won 95 seats only from Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Maharashtra. This time it would be lucky to win even half this number. The party and its allies are losing heavily in Haryana, Jharkhand, Assam, Gujarat and Bihar. Unlike the BJP, the Congress is not making any headway in UP. The gains in the Left Front-ruled states and Orissa are not sufficient for the Congress to offset the losses in its traditional bastions. Sonia'sparty should be really lucky if it is able to reach anywhere near its 2004 tally of 142. In fact, anti-incumbency is working against the party both at the centre and in the states. This is the general trend with just a fortnight for the votes to be counted.
It is not only the poor performance and the bad image of the UPA as a whole that are working against the Congress. Its attempt to avoid a discussion on its five-year stint in office would have worked had the zero inflation been reflected in the prices of essential commodities. Food articles are as costly as they were when inflation rate was hovering around 13 per cent. The economic meltdown need not have created job loss as Indian economy is not essentially export driven. But the UPA government'spro-rich policy has emboldened the corporate to resort to retrenchment and pay-cut in a big way under the guise of the global recession. The poor record of infrastructure development, education sector and public health and utilities has rendered the employment scene severely handicapped to accommodate the job loss both in the domestic and international market. On an average, three million jobs have been lost due to recession every month since October 2008. The growth rate, according to the latest IMF report, is estimated to come down to 4.5 per cent, the lowest in ten years.
Manmohan Singh is leading a government which seems totally alien to the idea of collective responsibility of the cabinet. No Prime Minister worth the name would have allowed his colleagues in the cabinet to go to the electorate abusing and criticising his government, contesting against each other and asking for a renewed mandate even as they remain in the cabinet. The leading party of the UPA is so insensitive and morally bankrupt that it is talking of abandoning the likes of Lalu, Paswan and Karunanidhi after the poll and wooing the NDA partners like JD(U) and the DMK'sprincipal opposition in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK and the Left after the poll to remain in power. This is not an expression of expediency but blinding cynicism of the meanest variety. It is this political promiscuity the UPA has thrust on the country for which it is all set to pay a heavy price.