The Bharatiya Janata Party has neither functioned as an effective opposition, nor has it been able to highlight the government's failures. Even when the 2G, Adarsh and CWG scams hogged the headlines and the heads of important ministers seemed to be on the block, BJP could not score decisive points. The party's top leaders did not speak in one voice on major issues. Despite all this, the findings of two recent surveys indicate that they would fare rather well in a midterm poll.
The ABP News AC Nielsen survey, conducted across 28 cities in April-May 2012, revealed that BJP will get 28 per cent and the Congress only 20 per cent of the total votes if the general elections are conducted now. An overwhelming majority of those who voted for BJP in the last Lok Sabha polls said that they won't switch their allegiance. In contrast, around 12 per cent of the voters who backed the Congress in 2009 are planning to support its main rival if elections are held in the near future.
The latter are mainly upset with the government's failure to control inflation. The common man has borne the brunt of price rise for long and would like the Finance Ministry headed by Pranab Mukherjee to belatedly take some corrective steps. Unfortunately, that has not happened so far. The rupee has been touching new lows of late, yet the Reserve Bank has done precious little to check the currency's free fall.
Captains of industry have rued the Centre's policy paralysis. Confirming their worst fears, the government’s chief economic adviser hinted that the ruling dispensation isn’t likely to pursue any major economic reforms until after the 2014 elections. Since in 2011 West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee forced the government to put on hold the proposed 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, Kaushik Basu's statement was not surprising.
Worse has been UPA II's political mismanagement. There is no end in sight to the Telangana imbroglio. Maoists are abducting foreign tourists, officials and legislators with impunity. Inter-state disputes flare up every now and then but the government remains a mere spectator as was the case during the Kerala-Tamil Nadu standoff on the Mullaperiyar dam issue.
The Lokpal Bill was not passed by the Rajya Sabha in the Budget Session as promised by the government, it was instead referred to a Joint Select Committee. This gives Anna Hazare who galvanised the youth with the campaign against corruption in 2011 and his new ally Baba Ramdev sufficient ammunition for their proposed agitation in June.
No wonder the CNN-IBN-GFK survey, conducted across eight cities in the first week of May 2012, found that people have become increasingly disenchanted with the UPA government. Nearly 60 per cent of the respondents expressed dissatisfaction over its performance. An equal number observed that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is clearly hampered by coalition compulsions. Seventeen percent of the respondents felt that he is inefficient in handling corruption.
Though both surveys only convey the prevailing mood among the urban population, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has enough reasons to worry because it was precisely this section that had backed her party to the hilt in 2009. The rural votes are likely to be divided among several parties.
If the middle class votes en masse for BJP, its victory is assured. However, the party's leaders who are busy bickering at present will first have to get their act together for that to happen. They need to put up an united front with their existing allies and also manage to secure new ones. Only a broad-based coalition will be seen by the voters as a credible alternative to the UPA.