September 14, 2011
August 2011 will likely turn out to be a watershed month in Indian politics, particularly in respect of the fortunes of the UPA Government at the Centre. Politics in India will never be the same again, and Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption and the way it was handled by the Congress-led UPA government surely has been a game changer.
While the spontaneous upsurge of public sentiment in support of Anna has put the entire political class on notice, that the common man’s tolerance for their brazenly corrupt ways is gone, the arrogant and ham-handed way the agitation was handled has severely damaged the popular standing of the UPA Government and that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The LensOnNews poll carried out in 13 cities in the first week of September finds that an overwhelming 78% of the respondents said they were dissatisfied with the Government’s efforts to tackle the problem of corruption. And significantly, an even larger number (84%) unequivocally support the Jan Lokpal Bill and, unlike government spokesmen and many commentators, think that it can potentially be a large step in the nation’s efforts to control corruption. Some have tended to dismiss the concern on corruption as ‘middle class angst’, but corruption affects the everyday life of every citizen, perhaps the poorer classes and rural folk much more than others.
The LensOnNews monthly poll is designed to track public opinion on Government’s performance and changes in the opinion over time. The September round shows that as many as 74% of the respondents say that they are dissatisfied with the performance of the UPA Government. This is a 13% increase over the early August figure of 61% - an already high number, accounted for by the perceived non-performance of the government on multiple fronts including the unchecked inflation, large-scale corruption, and inaction against Naxal and Jihadi terror.
The performance rating of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself is a little better; only 66% of the respondents say they are dissatisfied! (This also shows a sharp increase of 11% over the August figure of 55%). The difference surely is explained by the fact that the brunt of the public ire for the arrogance and incompetence of the government was borne by cabinet ministers such as P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, who have served as the crisis managers and public face of the government on issues such as the Lokpal bill, while the mild-mannered PM remained mostly silent and in the background.
Politics is about choice, and hence the principal opposition party, the BJP, comes across as the beneficiary, if only by default, of the public disaffection with the UPA government. Asked which party they would like to see heading the Government at the Centre if elections were held today, 47% pointed to the BJP (an increase of 5 points over the August figure), while the Congress at just 27% shows a drop of 6 points. Partly this is due to the fact that, even while asserting the supremacy of Parliament in their negotiations with the Anna Team, the Congress ministers kept their own UPA allies and the key opposition parties, the BJP and the Left, out of the loop. Thus, when they finally handed Team Anna a moral victory over the Lokpal issue, the Congress had isolated itself and the BJP was left relatively untouched by the taint of political corruption.
The corruption issue is certainly not going away, with BJP leader L.K. Advani announcing his plans to embark on a nationwide yatra to mobilize public opinion for action on the problem, while Team Anna has announced its own plans for continuing their campaign on the Jan Lokpal Bill and also asked people to watch what every MP-member of the parliamentary standing committee does during its deliberations on the bill. With CWG, 2G, cash-for-votes and other high-profile cases winding their way through investigations and the judicial process, the months ahead should see events unfolding in interesting and unexpected ways.
The September round of the LensOnNews monthly tracking poll was carried out among a sample of 2064 voters in 13 cities (including four metros) between September 1 and 6. The findings are subject to a margin of error of 4%.
(Part 1 of the results of this poll was published yesterday under the title, PM sweepstakes: Lens Poll finds Narendra Modi gains momentum as Rahul Gandhi falters).