Rahul Gandhi suffers from never having done a job: Guha
The big question for both the major parties, then, was the question of leadership. The polls showed 19% favoured Modi as the next Prime Minister while 12% picked Rahul Gandhi, but that means 69% of those polls either favoured someone else, or hadn't made up their minds.
The BJP needs to double-down on projecting Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, the Congress will have no moral claim to the next government and a messy coalition at the center would be a "dog's breakfast", according to a panel that analysed the findings of a CNN-IBN/Hindu poll.
The panel members were Yogendra Yadav, senior fellow at the Center for Study of Developing Studies, Journalist Swapan Dasgupta, Professor Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi, Surjit Bhalla, and the head of Oxus Investments, Siddarth Varadarajan, the editor of the Hindu, and Sandeep Shastri, the Vice Chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore.
The poll data showed the NDA emerging as the biggest single group with 172 to 180 seats, while the UPA would get 149-157. But that leaves the other regional parties with over 200 seats, making them a potentially divisive factor when it comes to forming the government.
If these are the results in 2014, then it is a complete dog's breakfast," Dasgupta said. "It is going to be 1996 and worse. It will be two or three years of inherent stability because no one wants an election."
The panelists all agreed that it would be easier for the UPA to form alliances than it would the NDA, primarily because of the secularism card, but questioned the legitimacy of another term for the current government.
"Clearly with these numbers, the UPA does not have a moral or any other right to claim the government," Guha said.
For the BJP, the elevation of Modi was seen as an impediment to their being able to secure a large coalition. The loss of the Nitish Kumar in Bihar being one example of the negative side of Modi as the party's defacto leader. That's the reason Dasgupta felt the BJP needed to get close to 200 seats if it wanted to form the government at the Centre. At the same time, he felt Modi was the BJP's trump card because Modi's approval ratings outstrip those of the party.
"The BJP has to go with Narendra Modi and it has to go far more," Dasgupta said. "I think the tentativeness cannot be there. Of course that is a risk. But you have got the momentum. The social segment you are gaining. Go for broke. If you go broke, even you stop a little short, you would have created the momentum."
The possibility of a so-called Third Front emerging was also discounted, in part because the largest individual parties in such a group would have around 25 to 30 seats, raising questions about the limited size of their support.
"For anything like a Third Front, you needed a JD or a Left front," Yadav said. "In the absence of any one of them, in the absence of personality, in the absence of an issue, I don't see a Third Front coming together. Or if it comes, I don't see it being accepted."
The big question for both the major parties, then, was the question of leadership. The polls showed 19 percent favoured Modi as the next Prime Minister while 12 percent picked Rahul Gandhi, but that means 69 percent of those polls either favoured someone else, or hadn't made up their minds.
However, in a straight head to head battle, there was little difference between Modi and Rahul, with the former being picked by 33 percent of respondents and the latter by 31 percent. There was a stark regional divide though, with South India picking Rahul by 37 percent to 17 percent but Modi ahead by 4 to 10 percent in the rest of the country.
"It is clear Rahul Gandhi suffers from never having done a job. Not just a political job, but any job," Guha said.
According to Guha, support for Modi in the South was weak because he does not make speeches in English, while Dasgupta felt the preference for Rahul reflected the BJP's lack of presence in the South.
All the panelists felt that the BJP stood to benefit if they could turn the election into more of a presidential election - a straight contest between Modi and Rahul.
"It is in the BJP's interest to cast this election in presidential terms because Modi is more popular than Rahul," Varadarajan said.
Bhalla, for one, felt this was already happening. "I do believe most people will see this election as a presidential election - across India. It is being seen increasing . people are talking personalities. Something I have not seen to this extent.
"I think this is a big change. I think you better get used to it, and anticipate it."
Bhalla felt that Rahul is genuinely ambivalent about becoming Prime Minister and therefore the Congress should seek to nominate someone who has shown a hunger for the job and someone who has shown leadership.
He also felt the BJP should speak with one voice concentrate on the issues that they poll strongly - economy and good governance.
"If the BJP focuses on Hindutva, they will collapse," he said.
As for Manmohan Singh, the polls showed that he was still liked by over 60 percent of the respondents. But the general perception was that he had allowed corruption to take place around him and had little control over what has happening. Some blamed the dual power centres of the Congress, saying Mammohan could not be blamed for the Sonia Gandhi factor, but Guha was not so forgiving.
"He [Manmohan] has been a timid, time-serving status-quo-ist Prime Minister.
"You cannot blame Sonia Gandhi for that."
While all the panelists were concerned about the growing Federalism of India, they all conceded that that the situation was not going to change because India was too diverse to have just two parties represent the entirety of the country.
"The new centre of Indian politics is not the centre but the states," Shastri said.
There was also the sense that because the Indian polity requires playing to different demographics and different demands, the Indian system is essentially a moderating one, despite the messiness of coalition politics.
"The system is working. There is nothing wrong with the system," Bhalla said. "The Indian system is a moderating factor. I don't see that the [parties] have got it but they will get it."
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