Three opinion polls this week on the national political mood have three simple messages embedded in them – two for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and another for the Congress.
The polls – one by AC Nielsen for ABP News, another by C-Voter for Headlines Today, and a third by GFK for CNN-IBN - clearly indicate that the Congress is slipping, and slipping badly, in urban India, and possibly all over the country too. It is likely to crash to one of its worst defeats in history. The message: it is best to soldier on till 2014, since early elections means crushing defeat.
But the more important messaging is for the BJP, which thinks it will reap the growing anti-incumbency vote and ride to power in 2014. Far from it. For the party’s warring non-entities – and that means the entire central leadership - the message is this: despite the Congress’ best efforts to lose, the BJP won’t be able to form the next government. Only Narendra Modi can deliver them within striking distance of power in Delhi.
After much huffing and puffing, the NDA (without projecting Modi) may reach 206, says ABP News, assuming polls were held in May this year. C-Voter gives the NDA even less – 179 seats, and the BJP’s own tally is a measly 137, despite a dramatic fall in the Congress’ seat count by nearly 90 from 206 in 2009 to 116.
This is a clear slap in the face for the BJP’s central leadership, which has been fighting an internecine battle and doing its best to show a disunited face to the electorate. The C-Voter poll suggests that the people are unimpressed by the BJP despite disenchantment with the Congress. If the BJP thinks it can win by riding the anti-Congress vote, it has another thought coming: the anti-incumbency vote is heading towards the regional parties.
C-Voter says that between them, the Congress and the BJP will win less than half the seats – just 253 – and this it is a non-Congress, non-BJP front that will form the government. But given the internal antipathies of this motley crowd – where SP goes, Mayawati won’t, where TMC goes, the Left Front won’t - this regional front may need outside Congress support to survive even for a year or two.
However, the most important part of all the polls is the Narendra Modi factor. Every one of the surveys clearly indicates that Modi is a winner for the BJP – and the party would be making a big mistake by either not projecting anyone or projecting the wrong leader in 2014.
While the CNN-IBN poll shows the urban voter as clearly in favour of Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, with 38 percent preferring him over 13 percent and 14 percent for Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi, LK Advani figures with a low backing of 5 percent. The man who built the BJP in the 1980s and 1990s is clearly not the man the people will back this time. Some 60 percent favoured Modi as the BJP’s best hope, while 10 percent backed Advani. Advani’s time is over.
The ABP News-AC Nielsen poll has something similar to report in urban areas. Modi turns out to be a clear favourite with 36 percent backing him versus 13 percent for Rahul Gandhi, and 12 percent for Manmohan Singh. Once again the message is the urban voter will not be amused if the BJP squanders its chances by encouraging its factions to play their games and damage the party’s chances in 2014.
But it is the C-Voter poll that is the most interesting: it actually tries to calculate the difference between what the BJP-led NDA would achieve if Modi were projected as the PM candidate and if he were not.
Without Modi, the NDA – with Nitish Kumar in tow - gets all of 179, and the BJP 137. With Modi, the BJP-led NDA takes a giant leap both in vote share and seat count. While NDA’s vote share rises from 31 percent to 36 percent – so 5 percent is the Modi vote share effect – the seat count goes up to 220, just 52 short of majority. This means a 41-seat advantage due to Modi.
The big question is: are these numbers believable? Skeptics will also point out that Modi did not make much of a difference in Karnataka, where the BJP was routed.
The answer to the skeptics is simple: Karnataka was an election run wholly on local factors, and Modi did not stake his reputation on the campaign. A national election with a clear leader is a completely different proposition – and here Modi counts.
The figures look credible because the Modi effect not only benefits the BJP, but also Congress and Samajwadi Party. The losers are the other regional parties, due to tactical voting by the minorities.
How? The C-Voter survey, which is based on a long-term tracking system and covers both urban and rural constituencies, asked voters whether they would vote for BJP if Modi was its leader and if they would still do so if he were not its leader.
Modi’s semi-polarising nature tends to have two kinds of impact: one helps the BJP, and another helps its strongest local rival - due to tactical voting by Muslims.
The big impact is in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the Modi bandwagon raises the BJP seat share from 10 in 2009 to 29 even while whittling down the BSP and Congress. The Samajwadi Party, which expects a consolidation of the Muslim vote, also gains, with its seats rising from 23 in 2009 to 30.
Bihar is the biggest surprise: given Nitish Kumar’s known antipathy to Modi, any projection of Modi could result in Kumar breaking away from the NDA, but this actually benefits the BJP. Thanks to a reverse consolidation of upper caste and some lower OBC votes, the BJP’s seats go up from 12 in 2009 to 18, while Nitish Kumar actually loses seats – from 20 to nine. Lalu Prasad also gains, from four to seven, but nothing to write home about.
The message for Nitish Kumar is clear: there is no gain in continuing with Modi-bashing.
It is now very clear that the BJP has no hope of making it without Modi. He is Gulliver in BJP’s Lilliput.
It is time the BJP bit the bullet and decided on him as their clear Prime Ministerial candidate if they want to win in 2014 – or even later this year.
If the Grand Old Man of BJP wants to do his last great act of political wisdom, LK Advani should facilitate Modi’s elevation and ensure that the rest of the central leadership’s middling leaders pipe down and work to ensure the party’s victory.
This is the best thing Advani can do for the party. To Modi there is no alternative.