'Narendra Modi is a child of India's mismanagement'
With the ruling UPA creating a governance vacuum and voters getting the sense that Manmohan Singh has betrayed them, they are turning to Narendra Modi.
There is a BJP wave spreading across Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi and it is carrying the NDA ahead of the UPA and Narendra Modi well past Rahul Gandhi. That was the conclusion of a panel debate on CNN-IBN on the findings of a pre-poll survey conducted by Lokniti and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for CNN-IBN and The Week.
The panelists were Sandeep Shastri, the vice-chancellor of the Jain University in Bangalore, Right wing columnist Swapan Dasgupta, KS Sachidananda Murthy, resident editor of the Week, CNN-IBN’s political editor Pallavi Ghosh and Dipankar Gupta, columnist and retired professor from the Jawarharlal Nehru University.
The survey showed that while support for Rahul had risen from 15 percent to 17 percent since the last survey conducted by the same parties in July, support for Modi had risen from 26 percent to 35 percent. When the two men were pitted against each other, Modi was preferred by 37 percent of respondents compared to 16 percent who thought Rahul was the better choice. Among first time voters, 45 percent went for the older man, while 29 percent chose the Congress vice president.
It was advantage Modi for two primary reasons, the panelists said. The first was that while Modi may be chronologically older than Rahul, he represented a fresh option while Rahul came packaged with the ghosts of his political ancestors.
“I think Rahul is four-generations old and Modi is one-generation old,” Gupta said, “so Modi is younger than Rahul politically.”
Young people, Gupta, argued tend to want change and change is what Modi represents. He is not someone who promises to deliver the moon, but offers a promise of something new, even if the specifics remains undefined to this point.
The Week’s Murthy agreed, saying “Rahul represents the incumbency of UPA I and UPA II. Young people are very angry with UPA II and Rahul is the most important face of the Congress.”
In this, Rahul has also suffered because of the perception of current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s as meek and indecisive in the wake of multiple scandals that have rocked his government.
“What is Modi’s USP in this campaign? Murthy asked. “To trash the Congress and the Nehru dynasty when the voters are angry with the Congress and the entire dynasty.”
Modi has also moved the conversation about him from where it was in 2002 and its aftermath to the twin planks of development and good governance, with regular references to Hindu-Muslim unity thrown in for good measure.
Dasgupta agreed that the Modi has employed a “degree of brand management” to enhance its reputation but said is popularity is growing because he has come to represent what the people want. “It is primarily because the principle issues that agitate the government are issues on which Modi seems the strongest to remedy them – indecisiveness, corruption. Yearning for a strong leader has come because of the context.
“He is a child of India’s mismanagement.”
The panelists agreed that the Congress and Rahul had missed an opportunity in how to combat Modi’s rhetoric. Gupta felt the Congress should have tackled Modi on the issue of development in Gujarat years ago instead of focusing on the Godhra riots, while others felt Rahul had not distanced himself enough from Manmohan Singh and the party to be able to play the rebel. He also failed to take responsibility for Uttar Pradesh during the state elections in 2012 and that cost him.
“By playing hide and seek in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 he ruined his chance,” Gupta said. “He should have declared himself the CM candidate then. Even if he had lost, he would have made an impact.”
Shastri also pointed out that both men found themselves operating in very different political contexts. “Modi has made use of the the political context in which he has found himself,” Shastri said. “While Rahul cannot use the political context in which he finds himself to his advantage.”
As a result, 26 percent of respondents considered Modi a leader who takes good and strong decisions while a further 21 percent felt he was the right person to develop India. However only 10 percent felt he was decisive.
“The first thing respondents say they want say is honesty,” Gupta said. “The second thing is decisiveness. The third thing is secular. And then they say Modi.
“Modi’s 2002 image is now gone. The good thing about people is they forget history. The bad thing about politicians is they remember history.”
The result was that the BJP is now projected to get 57 out of the 72 seats that will be up for grabs from these four states in the national election next year, with the Congress only getting 12 seats. In 2009, the Congress won 40 seats, with the BJP picking up 30.
That in turn translates to the NDA getting between 187 to 195 seats in total, with the UPA is getting between 138-142 and other regional parties 208 to 216 seats.
BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad felt this was only the beginning of the impact Modi was making.
“There is a yearning for change in the country. The people of the country want a stable government … the trend will replicate in many other areas. A quest for a stable India can only be a stable NDA alliance.”
Meanwhile Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi felt the polls were inaccurate and did not reflect the true level of Congress support. “The assumption that it is all over, bar the shouting, which I find very amusing,” Singhvi said.
Aam Aadmi party member and noted psephologist, Yogendra Yadav, felt the ruling UPA had created a governance vacuum which had benefitted the BJP in three states, with the AAP also benefitting in Delhi.
“Clearly, the crisis of the ruling party has got much worse and we are looking at a very difficult situation for the ruling party,” he said.
The big question that remains for the BJP is their lack of presence and support in the East and South of the country. Because of that factor, it was not possible to extrapolate these results to the whole of India, Murthy said. “I still think BJP is not raising more than 170 to 180 seats,” he added.
For Dipankar, it was clear that the urban Indian voter had moved away from the liberalising economist Manmohan that many had bet their future on, in the last election.
In 2009, Manmohan Singh was a strong man,” Gupta said. He was a machete-wielding politician who undercut the left-front and brought in the nuclear deal. He was seen as a strong man.
“Congress won half of the urban seats on its own. The UPA won much more. Now the point is, what are people voting for? What MMS did not do was build on that. People are now voting on aspirations. Manmohan seemed to represent that aspiration.
“[But] Manmohan Singh has betrayed them. The same urban electorate is now voting for Modi.”
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