Congress comatose with stinkflation A good book of quotations has one incomparable virtue: it tells us that someone somewhere sometime looked at a rising bubble and deftly separated possibility from illusion. Some quotations survive for the sheer vivacity of verbal pyrotechnics: Oscar Wilde comes to mind. But virtuosity, even of the highest order, is more amusing than educative. The useful quotes are those which survive the remembrance of authors past. The classics become proverbs. The late British prime minister Harold Wilson once made an acute observation that has been repeated so often it has turned into a virtual cliche: a week is a long time in politics. Two years, which is the scheduled timeframe before the next general election season warms up, is a hundred times longer. The ancients were so convinced about the necessity of caution when promised a lottery that they whipped up two proverbs: they told peasants not to count their chickens before the eggs hatched; and informed the genteel lady taking her tea that there was many a slip 'twixt cup and lip. If the latest snapshot of the electoral mood photographed by Nielsen lasts the long course, the next general election could turn out to be a blissful tea party for the BJP. Two summers ago the BJP was on a frantic chase to nowhere, its cadre devastated by two successive defeats, its vote depressed by a disconnect between the national mood and party line. The mood has reversed with startling speed. The majority of the electorate is livid with a Congress party whose complacency and corruption has been compounded by interminable inflation and lockjaw in governance. Click here to Enlarge Many democratic governments have been killed by "stagflation", stagnation in growth combined with inflation. UPA 2 is suffering from an attack of "stinkflation", a combination of stinking corruption and inflationary prices that is potentially fatal. Nor is the voter confused about guilt: he holds the Centre directly responsible for the price rise. According to our survey, if a national election were held today, Congress would be swamped by the BJP in the north as well as Karnataka. Elsewhere, Congress would sweep Assam and Punjab, and hold its own in Haryana and Maharashtra, but get clobbered by smaller parties. In the all-India vote, BJP has 33 per cent to Congress's 27 per cent. But since the BJP has a smaller electoral base than Congress, its statistical advantage does not translate into a proportionate number of seats. Its margins will be higher in winning constituencies, but numbers restricted. The NDA is estimated to win between 175 and 185 seats, against 159 two years ago, but it is the BJP which is delivering most of these seats, with JD(U) in Bihar as its only significant contributor. It is often said that no party can form a government at the Centre if it does not win in the comparatively small state of Delhi. In 2004, you could see BJP shoulders sag when the party lost Delhi. Those shoulders can slope upwards again. If an election were held now, BJP would get 52 per cent of the vote against only 28 per cent for Congress. (These and subsequent figures are for a general election, not an Assembly poll.) Click here to Enlarge The anti-establishment spirit has seeped into Rajasthan, where BJP is back in the ascendant with 49 per cent compared to 33 per cent for Congress. The Congress sweep in Rajasthan was crucial to its 2009 figures, but the trend in Madhya Pradesh, which became a swing state in 2009, could be the more relevant omen. The Congress cannot hope to achieve its dream of a singleparty majority without a breakthrough in Madhya Pradesh. Instead of consolidating on its gains, Congress has slipped, with its vote share down to 24 per cent vis-a-vis 62 per cent for BJP in a state without any third party to confuse the outcome. The margin in Gujarat-69 per cent to 25 per cent- is unsurprising, but the difference in Karnataka, where BJP has taken some heavy hammering, is a bit of a surprise: 60 per cent to 26 per cent. Jharkhand was another state up for grabs, with at least three parties involved in the grab-bing. Under Chief Minister Arjun Munda the state has moved towards BJP. In next-door Bihar the ruling partners have 77 per cent of the vote (BJP 39 per cent, JD-U 38 per cent), with Congress stuck at 10 per cent. But perhaps the most interesting revelation of this poll is that Uttar Pradesh is moving back towards the BJP. In a general election, BJP gets a huge 37 per cent of the vote, with BSP next at 27 per cent, Congress third at 18 per cent and SP a poor fourth at 11 per cent. The numbers are slightly less favourable for BJP in an Assembly poll, but still place the party significantly ahead at the top. If this translates into fact in next year's Uttar Pradesh elections, it could upturn all expectations and open new variables in national politics. Click here to Enlarge The reason why we commission opinions polls by reputed agencies such as Nielsen is not because they deliver irrefutable heavenly wisdom, but because they tend to be more accurate than the pencilscratching predictions of us less-thanheavenly journalists. But Nielsen also confirms what many journalists have been reporting from Punjab, that a massive Congress victory is imminent under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh. Nielsen puts Congress at 65 per cent in Punjab, against 20 per cent for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and 8 per cent for SAD's ally BJP. It also shows Congress far ahead in Haryana at 48 per cent, with the fractured opposition (INLD 24 per cent, BJP 22 per cent) lagging way behind. Similarly, Congress outdistances BJP in Assam by 67 per cent to 13 per cent. In Kerala, the situation has not changed very much since the Assembly elections, with the Congress alliance ahead of the Left by 4 per cent, but the Left has sunk further in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee now rules with 51 per cent support against the Left's collapsing 16 per cent and the Congress' rising 19 per cent. It would be churlish to suggest that Nielsen is right in Bengal and Punjab but wrong in Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh. Political support does not suddenly disappear into an earthquake abyss; it is more of a mudslide, with the pace being determined by local conditions. The Congress is suffering from regression even in states where it is holding up. It should, however, be particularly worried about four states. The first is Orissa, where it could have made gains. The anti-incumbency vote should have gone straight, without tributary defections, to the Congress. Instead, it is magnetising around BJP, which is now only two points behind Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal and six points ahead of Congress. The second worry is the line of three states that have given UPA 1 and UPA 2 the bulk of seats: Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Congress, with 14 per cent, is no match for the resurgent Jayalalithaa (58 per cent) in Tamil Nadu, even in the company of its doubtful ally DMK (19 per cent). True, this can shift by 2014, but a 25 per cent gap is difficult to traverse. Click here to Enlarge Despite being a regional leader, Jaganmohan Reddy does better than Congress in Andhra even in a parliamentary poll, 31 per cent to 27 per cent. With the pro-Telangana TRS likely to deliver above its weight in its consolidated region, the Congress could suffer serious seat loss. The news is not too bad from Maharashtra, where Congress has 25 per cent of the vote; but its share, along with NCP's 11 per cent, is only 36 per cent. The BJP's vote has risen to 24 per cent, while the Shiv Sena has dipped to 16 per cent. Any further drift away from the Congress, and the 5 per cent splinter vote that Raj Thackeray takes away from the Sena giving Congress-NCP a handsome advantage, may become irrelevant. The biggest gainers of the swing away from UPA have in fact been the regional parties of the south, led by Jayalalithaa and Jagan Reddy. The third category of 'Others' is not an alliance and unlikely to become one, but its tally at this moment is in the range of 167 to 177, virtually on par with the Big Two. The supplementary indicators have become negative for Congress, leading of course with price rise. The factors that worked in UPA's favour two years ago are slipping away. For instance, 30 per cent of respondents now say that BJP is more concerned with the problems of the poor and unemployed, and only 27 per cent for the party that has come to power on the shoulders of the "aam aadmi". We can see the electorate giving the Opposition the benefit of doubt even on an issue where its track record is dubious: 30 per cent believe BJP is more capable of giving India a stable coalition, as compared to 28 per cent for Congress. Click here to Enlarge The ruling party's biggest disappointment must surely be the pit into which Manmohan Singh's reputation has begun to disappear. Seventy per cent are convinced that the prime minister's image has been tarnished by the scandals swirling around his government. The people are holding the prime minister responsible for the cesspools around him. Manmohan was the surprise master card of the Congress in 2009, the hero who tipped Lok Sabha numbers upward by perhaps 30 or 40 seats. Even in January this year, 17 per cent wanted him as their prime minister in the foreseeable future, as compared to 20 per cent for Rahul Gandhi, despite Manmohan's age, absence of media courtship and a thorough disdain for charisma. But in these six months, his numbers have dropped to 11 per cent. To revive an old simile: the voter wants to know just how long Ali Baba will continue to insist that he does not know what the 40 thieves are up to. The paper trail from Commonwealth Games and 2G scams leads visibly up to the Prime Minister's Office, as indeed it must in our form of government. The unctuous flattery of some Cabinet ministers in defence of their lord is falling on deaf ears. Click here to Enlarge One gets the feeling that Delhi's rulers have still not fully grasped the depth, and indeed virulence, of the people's rage against corruption. They still seem to believe that this is one of those passing storms that might shake a few leaves but will leave the banyan tree intact. We have seen this myopia recently. Senior Congressmen, including those from Tamil Nadu, were quite certain that DMK would ride back to power since corruption was less "real" an issue than free television sets. The massive erosion of the DMK vote, and its virtual erasure from the Assembly, has not been a sufficient lesson in electoral mathematics. Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have done significant damage to Congress, because the Congress dismissed the former as a naÃƒÂ¯ve disrupter, and the latter as nothing less than an evil Rasputin. The police action against Ramdev may have had its tragic-comic moments, but it has bumped up the BJP vote in the Hindi north. It might surprise English-speaking India to discover that Baba Ramdev has had more impact than Anna. Between them, Anna and Baba resonated across different segments of our society, seeding and fertilising the current sentiment. Slice the corruption issue any which way and one thing is transparently clear: the people believe the Centre is corrupt, and for them Congress and the Central government are synonymous. Click here to Enlarge The one hope left for the Congress is of course Rahul Gandhi, who emerges at the apex of the voters' prime minister wishlist, with 21 per higher than in January, when we did our last poll, but-and this may not make pleasant reading for the ruling party-8 per cent less than his support in August 2010. The voter no longer believes that Sonia Gandhi wants to be prime minister, which is why her numbers are fading. Remarkably, Rahul Gandhi is only one per cent higher than Atal Bihari Vajpayee, despite the fact that Vajpayee has been totally absent from public view because of illness. Vajpayee is now only second to Indira Gandhi on the list of best-ever prime ministers, 31 per cent to 24 per cent. Manmohan gets only 5 per cent in this category. Delhi may be short on sensitivity, but it is never short of wit. One can hear its parlours steam with banter about the ultimate magical abracadabra solution for stability: Rahul Gandhi could join the BJP and we could live happily ever after under a singleparty government. Since that is impossible, the future becomes even more exciting than the past.