On May 22, India’s ruling coalition, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), celebrated the fourth anniversary of its government and the completion of its ninth straight year in power.
With little achievement to its credit – not only has it failed to address the agrarian crisis or revive a sluggish economy but this government has also been described as India’s most corrupt since independence – and its prospects in the 2014 general election bleak at best, political commentators questioned whether the UPA should be celebrating at all.
As the UPA begins its tenth year at the helm, its stock with the people has dipped to an all-time low. Several opinion surveys conducted in recent weeks predict a UPA defeat if general elections were held now.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
True, the surveys reveal that the Congress’ losses would not translate automatically into gains for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with smaller regional parties expected to be the main beneficiaries. But the BJP – or at least those sections that support Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi – can draw some satisfaction from the results of the opinion polls. The surveys are unanimous in declaring Modi to be the most popular prime ministerial candidate in the country. For instance, the CNN-IBN poll reveals that 38% of urban voters prefer Modi over incumbent Manmohan Singh (13%) and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (14%).
In fact, the surveys predict that Modi will improve the electoral prospects of the BJP and the coalition it leads – the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). “Only Narendra Modi can deliver them within striking distance of power in Delhi,” observes R Jagannathan in Firstpost.com.
Modi has been Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat since 2001. In December last year, he led the BJP to its fourth consecutive win in the state. Emboldened by that emphatic mandate in his home state, Modi turned his eyes towards Delhi, the Indian capital. He is clearly eyeing the prime minister’s job.
But Modi’s ambitions have been under attack, not just from secular India but from within his party. Several BJP leaders are uncomfortable with his abrasive style and see him as a liability in a general election. Some of the BJP’s allies threatened to quit the NDA if Modi is projected as the alliance’s prime ministerial candidate in General Election-2014. Their opposition stems from their unease with Modi’s alleged role in communal violence, which could cost them the votes of Muslims.
In 2002, Gujarat was engulfed in communal violence. Over a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed, raped or injured. The violence was unleashed by mobs that included many members of the Sangh Parivar, a family of Hindu right-wing organizations of which the BJP is a part. Ministers in Modi’s government are alleged to have orchestrated the violence and incited crowds to attack Muslims and Modi himself is believed to have told a meeting of police officials that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger (over the burning of a train at Godhra which resulted in the death of 53 Hindus) against Muslims. In the 12 years since that carnage, Modi has never accepted responsibility or shown the slightest remorse for the horrific violence.