June 19, 2011
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, mired as it is in a series of scams, unable to gain control over runaway inflation, on the backfoot in its tussle with Anna Hazare and civil society activists on the Lokpal issue, and facing public revulsion over its brutal crackdown on Baba Ramdev and his supporters, has clearly lost public standing across the nation.
This is evident in the findings of a ‘Mood of the Nation’ poll conducted by LensOnNews which shows that voters are exasperated with the crisis-ridden Manmohan Singh government at the Centre, and are yearning for a change. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of voters want a change of government at the Centre, while only about half that number (32%) want the Manmohan Singh government to continue in office.
The disenchantment against the Centre is significantly higher in urban areas, among the college educated and upper castes. It is ironical that these very same informed voting sections had rooted heavily for the Congress party in 2009 polls giving it an unexpected push in polls and have now turned against it. This finding has ominous portents for the Congress led UPA government which has another three years of term left. Rarely do governments fall from public grace so rapidly and precipitously.
Rahul preferred over PM
The Lens poll also quizzed voters as to who between Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi would make a better prime minister. Interestingly, a higher proportion of voters (45%) think that Rahul Gandhi would make a better PM than Manmohan Singh (34%). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has lost public esteem as is evident from people’s preference for Rahul over Manmohan across all voting segments, be it urban-rural, male-female, caste and occupational groups.
Among the Congress party’s traditional voting segments of Muslims, scheduled tribes (STs), scheduled tribes (SCs) and labourers, preference for Rahul over Manmohan Singh is overwhelming. Muslims prefer Rahul over Manmohan 69% vs.18%, STs 56% vs. 17%, SCs 50% vs. 34%, labourers 57% vs. 28%, women 49% vs. 24%, and farmers 48% vs. 29%.
Modi preferred over Rahul
Voters were asked as to who between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi would make a better prime minister. Though not the declared official candidates of the rival national parties, the two are widely considered to be leading contenders for the office of the prime minister.
Significantly, a majority of respondents interviewed all over the country (52%) chose Narendra Modi as the preferred PM candidate over Rahul Gandhi trailing at 40%.
Perhaps, owing to the unprecedented drift in governance over the past year, people are looking for a leader with strong governance track record and this is where Modi may have appealed more than the Gandhi scion.
Narendra Modi has a huge lead over Rahul Gandhi among upper castes, OBCs, college educated and urban voters. The ratings are: upper castes (Modi 65%, Rahul 28%); OBCs (Modi 53%, Rahul 39%); college educated (Modi 57%, Rahul 35%) and urban voters (Modi 57%, Rahul 34%). Modi has a tenuous lead of 3% among rural voters (Modi 48%, Rahul 45%)
Voting sections strongly rooting for Narendra Modi are not loyal to any party and vote perceptibly based on performance. It is this ‘swing vote’ that proves decisive in regime changes. It seems the Congress party has lost them for now. Worse, these are opinion building groups and their anti-Congress sentiments could influence, albeit only partially, other less aware voting sections in the reminder of the term of the UPA government thus further driving the Congress fortunes down. In Tamil Nadu also, the anti-DMK sentiment was first evident only among informed groups but later gathered steam across all voting classes resulting in the rout of the DMK in recent state polls.
Rahul Gandhi also enjoys greater support over Narendra Modi among SCs (Rahul 53%, Modi 39%); STs (Rahul 47%, Modi 39%). And as may be expected, Rahul has overwhelming support among Muslims (Rahul 80%, Modi 16%). But all these are traditional and strong Congress support groups and their support isn’t adequate for the Congress party to gain a respectable tally in national elections.
Time to step aside for PM?
That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s stock has gone down, and Rahul Gandhi is seen as a better alternative, is not exactly a development that would be considered unwelcome from the Congress point of view. Some observers point out that the Congress party may have been following a carefully scripted strategy, since returning to power in 2009, of undermining the position of the Manmohan Singh so as to ease him out of the PM’s seat at an opportune time and install Rahul Gandhi as prime minister before the next elections in 2014. Perversely, therefore, erosion in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s public standing may be seen by the dynasty enthusiasts in a positive light.
The sorry fiasco the Government has landed itself in after reaching out to Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, is also not unwelcome as it has undermined not only Manmohan Singh, but also Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram, the only two senior leaders in the present Cabinet who are ambitious and see themselves as potential successors to Manmohan Singh as prime minister.
A soft coup may well be on the cards therefore sometime soon to get Manmohan Singh to resign as prime minister with the expectation that Rahul Gandhi would take over the reins of the government. Digvijay Singh’s recent comments that Rahul has the qualities to be the prime minister are meant to fuel such an expectation.
The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty may find it very tempting to make Rahul Gandhi prime minister at this time, when the principal opposition party the BJP is in disarray, and none of the political parties, whether in the UPA alliance or among the disparate opposition, wants to precipitate a mid-term election.
Or, if Rahul Gandhi is not yet ready to take up the challenge or shoulder the responsibility directly, it is possible that the Gandhi household may replace Manmohan Singh with another figurehead prime minister. Attacks against Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram in the recent weeks are perhaps aimed at transition of power to another figurehead prime minister.
In any event, it seems that the Manmohan Singh’s tenure is coming to an end. The moot questions are how soon and who will replace him.
Equally likely, however, is the possibility that when push comes to shove, not only the PM’s but the Government’s position itself becomes untenable, and as has happened several times before, that the nation finds itself facing premature elections to the Lok Sabha, a denouement that no one wants.
The LensOnNews Poll was carried out among a representative sample of about 3800 voters across the country, in 40 representative parliamentary constituencies in 14 states, on a wide range of issues concerning the state of national affairs and leadership preferences of voters. The poll was conducted between June 12 and 16, and the findings carry a margin of error of 4 per cent.
K. Balakrishnan is Editor, LensOnNews and was formerly Research Editor, The Times of India.
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