SO it is finally out. According to the CNN-IBN & CNBC-TV-18 “State of The Nation Poll”, the ruling UPA coalition’s popularity is a couple of points higher that what it was two years ago and “despite all the negatives associated with the current context, the ruling coalition has maintained its 12 percentage point lead over its main rival”. In plain language it means that if general elections to Parliament are held tomorrow, the UPA will come back to power. Forget 2G, forget Lokpal Bill, forget seven years of misgovernment, forget everything negative about the UPA: it will still win. So says the poll which gives 38 percentage points to the UPA to NDA’s 26 points. We can either believe the poll or damn it as a cruel joke, but it cannot be ignored.
To say that the poll results are paradoxical is to understate one’s feelings. Doesn’t the public care a damn about corruption in high circles? The indication are that it doesn’t. In Uttar Pradesh the Congress is well ahead of all rivals in a parliamentary context. The BJP is way behind. The Congress is also ahead of the ruling Akali-BJP alliance in Punjab in an Assembly contest, is “still comfortably ahead of the Shiv Sena-BJP” in Maharashtra, has “a clean lead” in the Lok Sabha elections in Madhya Pradesh, enjoys “a huge margin” in a Lok Sabha contest in Karnataka, will “sweep the polls” in Assam and will “bounce back to be a favourite in a Lok Sabha contest” in Orissa.
The TMC-Congress combine is “way ahead in the Lok Sabha poll, improving upon its spectacular Assembly performance” in West Bengal. If the BJP does well at all, it will be in Gujarat, Rajasthan and in Bihar where it has the JD(U) as a partner. That is the story. According to Yogendra Yadav who ran the poll” if the government is incoherent and devoid of any sense of purpose, the Opposition too lacks an agenda or credibility” and “the absence of political imagination and judgment that runs across the party political spectrum means that the anger with the Ruling Establishment does not get channelled into a political alternative”.
Yadav concedes that “the urban educated upper class vote that had significantly swung from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Congress in 2009” is tilting back in favour of the BJP, but apparently that is not a significant tilt, quantitatively speaking. If one understands the poll results right, the UPA will get to power for a third term, with most likely Rahul Gandhi as the putative Prime Minister. In the circumstances, the CNN-IBN poll should serve as a wake-up call, especially to the BJP. In the first place it must ask itself whether the chairman of the party commands the attention of the young, or, for that matter of people across the board. Also, it is evident from the polls that an aggressive anti-Congress stand such as presently being pursued by Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley may not have many takers.
As Yogendar Yadav put it in summarising the poll results, “in the absence of a credible alternative, the unhappy public turns back to the ruling party to look for a new face”. That face, apparently, belongs to Rahul Gandhi. Youth, dynastic inheritance, his refusal to accept any Ministership so far, in order to gain political experience as a Party secretary have obviously endeared him to a substantial segment of the public. What, in the circumstances, should the Opposition – the NDA – do to win back public support? There are two options: one is to say that the poll is bogus and doesn’t really reflect public opinion and go on as usual. There surely must be many in the party who think along that line. Actually it is very hard to believe the poll. Can it be, can it ever be, that the public will swallow all the scams associated with the Congress and still continue to vote for it?It indicates a total collapse of values among a large section of society that should be the shame of the country. It also indicates a certain cynicism among the voters, unhealthy though it is. But if it is there, and most likely cannot be changed, then the Opposition has to re-work its strategy. After the Karnataka fiasco and the behaviour of the former Chief Minister Yeddiyurappa, it would seem that the peoples’ faith in the BJP as “a party with a difference” has taken a beating.
Corruption, it would seem, is no longer a ‘selling point’. Of course, it may be argued that we still have two more years to go for the next General Elections and by then anything can happen. But that is depending too much on chance with a capital ‘C’.A plan should be worked out now, to be followed systematically, with diligence and persistence. And it should be content-positive. It should reflect statesmanship of the highest order. It should stay away from finger-pointing of which there has been enough so far. It should also stay away from personal attacks, whether against the Prime Minister (who, in any event would probably retire quietly, having suffered enough humiliation that could last for a life-time) or Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. It should stress on positives, on what the NDA would do, given a chance, to build infra-structure, roads, bridges, ports and more jobs for the people seeing that corruption is reduced to the minimum, that money allotted will reach aam aadmi maximally.
A Plan for Action should be worked out that gives hope for the young. At the same time, the top leadership of the party must fan out across the country to address audiences large and small, to provide the public cheer, not disillusionment. The public is fed up with talk on corruption. It is suffering from a tremendous sense of helplessness. It wants someone who gives it hope, courage and a sense of feeling that the best is yet to be. Leave the UPA alone. Let it stew in its own juice. As an immediate step, the BJP-NDA should call for a top level meeting of all its constituent elements to work out a plan of positive action to be implemented in the months ahead. There is still time to reverse the findings of the CNN-IBN poll, but in the first place its findings should be taken seriously as a warning to know what lies ahead. At the same time, the BJP should show a united front and not seen as consisting of a group of power-seekers and inveterate squabblers.