In the run-up to the 2014 elections, a sense of defeatism is creeping up on the Congress, and with good reason. The realisation that the UPA government hasn’t even begun to deliver anything close to governance in its second term in office, and has on the other botched things up with the avalanche of corruption scandals, is beginning to dawn even on the top leaders of the party.
Salman Khurshid’s recent expression of existential angst, when he referred to Rahul Gandhi’s “cameo” appearances and the absence of an ideological orientation to the party, was only the most visible manifestation of that hand-wringing that is going on within the Congress. And although Khurshid reckoned, somewhat unreasonably, that the assumption of bigger responsibilities by Rahul Gandhi would somehow rescue the Congress, his outpourings reflected the frustration that is more widely shared among Congressmen over the party’s inability to arrest the downward spiral.
Other interlocutors reveal an even more gloomy side of the Congress as it faces the prospect of the defeat of the UPA in 2014, or whenever elections are held. Shekhar Gupta quotes Congress people as acknowledging in private conversations that the Congress would find it difficult to cross even 100 seats in 2014.
“The party… is in deep panic. They have seen the writing on the wall. It says: see you later,” he notes.
That’s similar to the prognosis that BJP leader LK Advani arrived at recently. On his blog, Advani reported on his recent informal chat with two senior Cabinet ministers in the UPA (both from the Congress), and quoted them as expressing concern that neither the Congress nor the BJP would be able to put together an alliance with a clear majority in the next Lok Sabha. But Advani himself concluded that the Congress would for the first time get below 100 seats.
All this has led some BJP leaders and supporters to conclude that victory for the NDA alliance that the party heads is virtually pre-ordained in 2014, since even Congress leaders appear to have reconciled themselves to near-certain ignominious defeat.
An election survey conducted recently by the market research agency MDRA has somewhat more sobering news to convey for BJP leaders. Mint reports that a survey conducted last month concluded that both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA face the prospect of an electoral rout in 2014
If there was an election to the Lok Sabha today, the UPA would secure some 130-140 seats, down some 120-130 seats from its current tally of 266 (not including parties that support the alliance from the outside).
But according to the survey, that erosion in the UPA’s support wouldn’t benefit the BJP-led NDA one bit. The NDA, the survey revealed, would fall from 139 currently to somewhere between 120-130 seats.
Such an outcome would leave the field open for a Third Front, with perhaps the backing of the Left parties, reasons MDRA’s N Bhaskara Rao, who analysed the survey results.
There are several problems with election-related opinion polls in India, which have in the past proved
notoriously wrong. Indicatively, in 2004, the selfsame MDRA conducted an election poll in which it predicted that the NDA would emerge as the single largest political formation and be returned to power with a slim majority.
In any case, the prospects for a Third Front seem fairly limited, since the Left parties are unwilling to take the initiative to put together an ideologically incoherent formation. As CPIM (M) leader Prakash Karat said in a recent interview to Outlook, “The difficulty with these regional parties is that it's difficult to make an all-India coherent front. That's why in our recent party congress, we have not talked about the third alternative or an alternative of regional forces. We may have electoral understanding with them but that does not mean that electoral understanding is an alternative.”
Asked if this meant that the Left Front would not be a sheet anchor for a third or a fourth front, Karat said: “No, we are not interested. We have decided that we are not into that game. We don't want to forge any alternative because alternative for us means policy and programmes. In the immediate context, fighting against the Congress and BJP, we will cooperate with some of these parties. We will fight together for issues from time to time, without any illusion that we are a third or alternative front.”
But more critically, the Congress has begun to acknowledge that its goose is well and truly cooked: that puts it in a state of desperation to try and change the course of alliance formation over the next two years. And as was demonstrated during the recent Presidential election, the Congress still has the capacity to secure support from unlikely quarters – even from deep within the NDA alliance.
It’s still early days for the 2014 elections, of course, but for the BJP, there are important lessons from this: it can ill-afford any sense of complacency between now and then. Thus far, it appears to be looking to win by default from the anticipated collapse of the Congress. With all its fault, the latest election survey is a wake-up call for the party.