New Delhi: Manmohan Singh may be out of action for the time being after a major bypass surgery, but the Prime Minister can take heart from the news that he is more favoured for the country’s top political post than his nearest political rival L.K. Advani, prime ministerial candidate of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
According to a survey published by Marketing and Development Research Associates, or MDRA, that polled 17,640 voters, the 76-year-old Singh’s popularity has been on the rise, especially after the 26 November Mumbai terror strikes that his government says were orchestrated by Pakistan-based groups.
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The prospects of Advani’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which heads the NDA, also looks bleak because of an erosion in voter support in the last months of 2008, despite Singh’s United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, government coming under sharp attack for the increasing number of terror attacks, high inflation and the economic slowdown. India has witnessed 12 terror attacks in the past eight months.
The survey says internal wrangles and leadership disputes have added to the BJP’s cup of woes.
The party also faced electoral setbacks in Rajasthan and Delhi in the October-November state elections.
In both cities and the countryside, across genders, age groups and irrespective of academic qualifications, Singh has outshone Advani in terms of voters’ preference in December.
Political analyst and chairperson of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS) N. Bhaskar Rao is of the view that Singh’s image as a “passive and soft prime minister has changed absolutely” before the public.
“The public seems to have appreciated his governments’ hard steps against terrorism in the post-Mumbai strikes. Our economy is showing steadiness even when the global scenario is worsening. His government has put the inflation under control,” Rao said.
He added: “People believe that the international community’s support (after the attacks) and their putting pressure on Pakistan have vindicated the Prime Minister’s stand on the Indo-US nuclear deal.”
Singh had come under criticism when India signed the 123 agreement with the US, which his former “outside supporters”, the communists, alleged would compromise the country’s independent foreign policy.
The Left parties had withdrawn their over-four-year-long legislative support to the UPA government over the issue.
MDRA, a Delhi-based research agency, says the survey covered 17,640 voters from 970 assembly constituencies across 19 major states. “To get correct representation of political configurations, 28 constituencies ruled by the NDA, 32 ruled by the Congress and 38 by other parties were covered in two rounds—the first one in August and the second one in December 2008,” said the report.
BJP leaders privately admit that the dispute over Advani’s prime ministerial candidature and the exit of senior leaders such as former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh have hurt the electoral prowess of the party. “But we will definitely improve as the election comes,” said a party leader who did not want to be identified.
The general election is expected to be held in India before May this year to elect 543 members to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament.
BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy, however, dismissed the report as “not scientific”.
“There is no credibility for the surveys and they are doubtful as the methodology is under question. I do not think political people give much weightage to such surveys—irrespective of their findings—because they are not proven scientifically,” Rudy said.
But ruling Congress welcomed the observations. “Singh has guided India with a very steady hand over the past five years. The UPA has always maintained a judicial mix between social equity and economic progress. The finding reflect this very reality,” said Manish Tewari, party spokesperson.
“We have always maintained that we would go for poll under the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh and the leadership of (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi.” he added.
Graphics by Paras Jain / Mint