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Hazare lifts BJP but not enough

New Delhi, Sept. 3: The BJP has been the biggest gainer from Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign although not enough to win an election on its own, a STAR News-Nielsen survey conducted across 28 cities reveals.

It shows the BJP would garner 32 per cent votes across the country and the Congress only 20 per cent if the Lok Sabha polls were to be fought tomorrow. (See chart)

However, with 48 per cent respondents either undecided or favouring other parties, it’s clear that whoever shows the better skill at striking alliances would have the edge.

The survey underscores that the Congress cannot do without Manmohan Singh yet. Most declined to directly blame Singh for the government’s mishandling of the Hazare campaign while saying, to another question, that Rahul Gandhi was not yet ready to take over as Prime Minister.

Certain nuances too came out. If those surveyed plumped for Hazare and his lieutenants wholesale in hypothetical poll face-offs with Congress stalwarts, they rejected the idea that the ruling party alone was responsible for the pervasive graft. Three-fourths said all parties were equally to blame.

Also, while the majority said that a strong Lokpal bill would be a milestone in India’s battle against corruption and wanted it passed immediately, 40 per cent of the respondents thought it would not end graft in the near future.

The Centre, or its spokespersons, seems to have failed miserably in convincing the respondents that Hazare’s mode of protest undermined the legislative process. An overwhelming 82 per cent backed his tactics, against just 12 per cent who said these amounted to blackmail.

It’s also clear that Hazare’s agitation has cost the Congress a huge slice of support, at least for now. Except in southern India, where 21 per cent preferred the Congress and 16 per cent backed the BJP, the main Opposition party enjoyed the highest endorsement everywhere. The BJP-Congress vote share percentage was 40-27 in the north, 20-15 in the east, and 46-15 in the west.

These numbers are in stark contrast to the results of a similar STAR News-Nielsen survey conducted in May 2011 before Hazare’s campaign gathered momentum.

At that time barely four months ago, the Congress led with 30 per cent of the vote share while the BJP had only 23 per cent. Hazare’s crusade, therefore, has cost the Congress 10 per cent of the overall votes while the BJP has gained nine per cent.

A 54 per cent majority believes the government bungled by arresting Hazare, while 64 per cent lays the blame on senior ministers in Singh’s cabinet. A majority 54 per cent thinks even Sonia Gandhi would not have done much better.

A shock is in store for ministers who articulated the government’s initial hard line and challenged Hazare’s aides to prove their legitimacy in elections. The survey shows that in one-to-one poll battles, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal would drub Kapil Sibal and home minister P. Chidambaram, respectively.

Kejriwal, the most vocal among Hazare’s aides, has more cause for cheer: around 62 per cent feel the 43-year-old is the new role model for Indian youth. As for the Lokpal bill, 56 per cent says the Centre must not dither but pass it immediately, and any necessary amendments can come later.

Comparing the survey figures with the same respondents’ voting pattern in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls throws up a small surprise, though. While the BJP has gained seven per cent of the vote share and the Congress lost 12 per cent overall, the figures are reversed in the south, where the BJP has lost 12 per cent and the Congress gained five per cent.

If B.S. Yeddyurappa’s scandals are the reason, perhaps the moral is that corruption can hurt everybody.

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