A rare convergence of findings in all opinion polls, the latest of which is the Hindustan Times-GfK Survey, that Narendra Modi is by far the most preferred Prime Ministerial choice and the Congress led UPA has lost popular support, has made many in the ruling establishment privately admit that Congress simply does not have a strategy to retrieve lost ground.
The Congress party is in a catch 22 situation. It does not want a Presidential style Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi contest in the coming parliamentary elections, but at the same time it is hoping that the emergence of Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate will eventually help the Congress consolidate minority votes and halt the downslide.
“Narendra Modi is most unique personality that India has seen in 65 years of its independence. If the BJP at large is looking up to him as savior and the one who can return the BJP to power at the centre, he is also the Congress’s one stop solution to its electoral strategy. The electoral politics of both national parties have come to revolve round his persona. We in the Congress keep talking about how the arithmetic may suddenly change in our favour if Modi is projected as BJP leader. The truth is, the Congress party’s eventual numbers will have do less with our leader Rahul Gandhi’s merits or demerits and more to do with how Modi’s charisma pans out and what kind consequent polarization takes place”, a senior Congress leader candidly said.
Analyzing the findings of its opinion poll which suggests that 38 percent of urban India wants Modi as PM as against 23 percent for Rahul Gandhi, Hindustan Times says: “However, the most remarkable finding of the survey is not that there is a nation-wide sentiment that is working against the Congress, but the fact that this is leading to a consolidation in favour of the BJP. This is the most worrisome signal for the Congress (and its allies) as it has always believed – or at least hoped – that the BJP, caught in its own internal mess, would not be able to mobilise anti-incumbency in its favour.”
“Having noted these factors playing in the BJP’s favour, we must now turn to the caveats which are really consequential. The respondents in this survey have virtually taken for granted that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is the leader of BJP’s 2014 campaign. The strong polarizing presence of Modi will advance BJP prospects; but ironically, it will also slow down the slide of the Congress”
“All social forces against the BJP would gravitate towards the Congress in the event of Modi emerging as potential prime minister. In other words, the key factor that plays in BJP’s favour will also have an opposite reaction. Moreover, if the simmering leadership war in the BJP goes out of hand, that also will affect the party’s ascendance”, it says.
The fiercest debate surrounding the likelihood of Modi’s advent to the national political centerstage is how his candidature would be accepted by minorities, most importantly Muslim voters, and how this will ultimately impact the Congress party.
A senior Muslim leader says that it is not as cut and dry, as the Muslim community has reasons to be unhappy with the Congress. Neither the party nor the UPA government has followed up on its promise of reservation for Muslims, made ahead of the UP assembly elections. Lip service on the Sachar Committee Report and other government programmes has also inspired little confidence among the minorities. This is worsened by the fact that innocent Muslims are often booked by police and later released by courts on bail or acquitted after years of imprisonment.
However an influential section in the ruling establishment feels that it taken enough confidence building measures and offered schemes to win over the Muslim community and in sharpened political fight with Modi in the fore front from the Opposition, the Muslims will have no other option but to align with “time tested” Congress.
But the gains may not be so straight for the Congress. The Congress fight for Muslim votes will take place in five states, Uttar Prades, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Jharkhand. In states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharastra and Karnataka the Congress and BJP are pitted head to head against each other and in the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, the BJP is not much of a player and there are plenty of other factors which will come into play.
There are no signs yet that UP Muslims are prepared to desert Mulayam Singh Yadav for Congress. The Akhilesh Yadav government’s announcement of monetary help for weddings of Muslim girls and its decision to fast track the release of innocent Muslims from jail has only perpetuated the community’s confidence in Samajwadi Party and if there is some kind of social rebound to that, it could bring BJP into straight contention in several areas.
The Congress leaders are, however, hoping that Modi’s name will help all these arithmetical calculations go awry and pull minority community votes towards the Congress. After all, it is only the Congress and no other party that can prevent Modi from taking centre stage at the national level.
The ruling party will bank on hostile voting of the minority community. The BJP has a counter to that. “Those who talk so much of Muslim vote forget that it’s not only the Muslims who vote. If there is an aggressive Muslim polarization then a reverse polarization is also possible”, a BJP leader said.