Congress pays heavy price for GST obduracy
One can hear the silence and visualise jaw-drops in the Congress High Command drawing room at the results of a just released ABP News-Nielsen survey of the national mood. The figures speak for themselves.
Indians believe that Narendra Modi is the best Prime Minister since independence, followed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee: their ratio of support is 32 percent, 23 percent and 21 percent.
If a general election were held today, after 18 months in office, NDA, under Narendra Modi's leadership, would get a clear majority of 301 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress leadership has, during internal discussions with MPs, justified the hit-stall-run tactics in Parliament by claiming that the strategy of obstinate obstruction is paying dividends without extracting any political cost. This is supplemented by the assertion that nothing has gone down faster in the last year than the Prime Minister's personal stock. This survey results indicate the precise opposite.
A clear majority of 58 percent consider Narendra Modi the most popular leader in the country. Next in queue is Rahul Gandhi, but the difference between them is substantial. Rahul Gandhi gets only 11 percent support. Equally significant is the revelation that the BJP vote has actually risen substantially rather than declined, and Congress support has dropped dramatically. In the 2014 general election, Congress achieved a historic low of 19.52 percent; today it would get only 14 percent. This is the price that Congress is paying for Rahul Gandhi's obduracy.
The small slippage in NDA seats has been largely picked up by other parties in Congress-led UPA. The survey does not offer specific details about how many seats Congress would now win.
Why has this happened? Witness the public reaction to Congress blockade of Rajya Sabha and its repeated sabotage of the GST bill. 44 percent of respondents believe that opposition parties [primarily Congress] are not allowing the government to pass the GST bill; only 30 percent support Congress. The government's economic programme also wins endorsement, with 48 percent saying that the economy has improved.
Even without statistical corroboration this should have been a no-brainer. Voters will always reject any political party that obstructs economic growth. GST is recognised as a positive enabler; and Congress objections seen for what they are - nothing but cynical manoeuvres to wreck growth so that the Modi government cannot claim credit. Congress is taking revenge upon the voter for its defeat in 2014. Why should the voter forget or forgive this?
The Prime Minister's approval ratings are even more remarkable if you factor in the reality that some sections of the electorate are still implacably opposed to him, irrespective of how his government performs. Democracy has its share of emotive and even irrational responses. These can be overcome with good governance, but that takes time. What, however, remains indisputable is that a clear majority is convinced that the Prime Minister is exceptional, his government is sincere and the economy is moving in the correct direction.
Two elements of the current mood are particularly interesting. One is the slow but sure recovery of the Left. It would win 20 seats now, after the wipe-out of 2014. Its tally in the East, for which read Bengal and Tripura, rises from four to nine. Since the Left did not evaporate in Tripura, the recovery must be in Bengal. This questions, even if it does not fully negate, the conventional view that Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamul Congress are going to be re-elected easily in this summer's Assembly elections. Nothing is easy in any democracy; as far as Indian elections are concerned, you can erase that word from the dictionary.
Note another trend in the East. While NDA suffers a drop of 15 seats from its 2014 tally, it will still get 42 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and North East, with 31 percent of the vote. The implication is evident. When the Prime Minister asks for a vote for his government at the centre, there is a sharp spike upwards.
Second, there is overwhelming support for the Prime Minister's Pakistan policy and his efforts to revive the dialogue with Islamabad. This view has survived the setback to this process in Pathankot, for the opinion poll was conducted after the terrorist attack. There is a yearning for normalcy in the subcontinent, although never at the cost of security. Prime Minister Modi has gauged the public mood to a nicety. Equally, there is applause for the Prime Minister's overall foreign policy: 50 percent agree with what he is doing, and only 35 percent disagree.
Will this survey persuade Congress to change course during the Budget session of Parliament? The answer is up to Congress leaders. But in order to hear a wake-up call you do have to take your head out of the sand.
The writer is an eminent Indian journalist and author. Currently, he is the National Spokesperson of the BJP and Rajya Sabha MP from Jharkhand.