THOUGH it is still uncertain which party or alliance will finally come to power, political pundits have been consistent in predicting a hung Parliament. The first DB-MRAS opinion poll commissioned by Outlook in March indicated that no party would get a clear majority although at that point the Congress was in the lead, with the BJP close behind. But now, a second poll by the same agency, incorporating an exit poll restricted to the first phase of polling on April 27 in select constituencies, indicates that the situation has reversed. The BJP and its allies are ahead with 192 seats, followed by the Congress with 142 and the National Front-Left Front a close third with 139 seats. The DMK-Moopanar Congress alliance is expected to win 36. With the second round of polling due in May and the BJP emerging as a frontrunner, a section of voters who are still undecided may vote BJP, thus increasing its tally marginally.
The latest Outlook-DB-MRAS poll has been conducted in two stages. A pre-election poll in 103 constituencies in 16 statesin which 18,918 respondents were interviewedwas carried out between April 10 and April 20. An exit poll was conducted on April 27 during the first phase of voting in 15 constituencies spread over seven states3,000 respondents were interviewed for this. Care was taken in both polls to seek rural voters opinions. Thus, in the pre-election poll of the 18,918 interviews, 9,822 respondents were rural voters. In the exit poll exactly half the respondents were from the non-urban electorate.
The results show that the BJP, with a likely 4 per cent swing in its favour, may increase its vote share from 20 per cent in the 1991 elections to 24 per cent this time. In contrast, the Congress, hit by a negative swing of 5.5 per cent, may see its vote percentage decline from 37 per cent in 1991 to 31.5 per cent. The NF-LF vote percentage is likely to remain at the 1991 level of 21 per cent.
While the projected Congress vote share is 6.5 per cent more than that of the BJP and its allies, the latter are poised to emerge as the single largest party since they are contesting only 465 seats. The BJP is also contesting only in areas where it believes it has a strong presence. Since the Congress is contesting from all parts of the country, the overall number of votes in its kitty will be largerthat is, a larger vote share will not translate into more votes.
It is not difficult to see why the Congress has slipped from its earlier position as the single largest party. It is at one level linked to a split in the Tamil Nadu unit of the party and the subsequent DMK-Moopanar Congress alliance. The opinion poll in March saw a landslide win for the Congress-AIADMK alliance. But, now with an anti-Jayalalitha wave sweeping the state, the Congress alliance may get only three seats. The DMK-led front may win 36 seats.
The Congress has also lost ground in Madhya Pradesh, a state with the maximum number of hawala-tainted ministers. The March opinion poll gave the Congress 19 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state, with the BJP in the lead with 20 seats. But the latest poll shows that the Congress has slipped to 12 seats. The BJP has improved its position by three more seats. The poll also points to a downward trend for the Congress in Maharashtra. The reason: the chaotic party organisation which has not been able to quite recover from the defeat in the assembly elections. The party is also divided into pro-Pawar and anti-Pawar camps. The net result has been that the Congress, which in March looked like winning in 22 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats, may emerge victorious in only 17 seats.
As for the BJP, except for Karnataka, it has failed to make any inroads into the South. Its strength is still the Hindi belt. Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, which are in this belt, account for 238 Lok Sabha seats. In these, the opinion poll puts the BJP tally at 118. The NF-LF gets 53 seats and the Congress is a poor third with 47.
In the West (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa) the BJP will be ahead with 48 out of the total 76 seats in the region. The Congress is expected to win in only 23 seats with a particularly poor showing in its former bastion Maharashtra, and in Gujarat (where it is likely to win only four seats). The NF-LF presence, with only a single seat, is negligible in the region. However, the NF-LF combine is the frontrunner in the East (West Bengal, Assam, north-eastern states and Orissa). Of the 88 seats, the NF-LF will probably win 51 seats. The Congress is expected to win only 24 seats.
But the biggest blow for the Congress prospects comes from the South. Of the 129 seats in this region, the Congress won in 103 constituencies in the 1991 elections. Now the opinion poll predicts a slide to 44 seats. Of these, 28 seats are from Andhra Pradesh. Significantly, the BJP is likely to win 11 of the 28 seats in Karnataka. Its tally from the South is likely to be 12 seats. The NF-LF looks like winning 34 seats in the region.
When the results of the opinion poll conducted in March and the present survey are compared, it shows the Congress down by 49 seats in the overall national tally while the BJP is up by 22 seats. The NF-LF combines tally remains the same. Both the opinion polls do not take into account the six seats in Jammu and Kashmir. It has also excluded Himachal Pradesh, Goa and the north-eastern states.
One reason for the Congress woes is that one out of three
respondents in both the March and April surveys cited it as the most corrupt among
political parties. While about 25 per cent were still undecided on who exactly was the
most corrupt, 33 per cent of the respondents picked the Congress. And were the respondents
happy with the performance of the Congress Government at the Centre? In both the opinion
polls, a larger proportion of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the Government.
Only 18 per cent felt that the governance was better than expected while 33 per cent were
of the view that it was worse than expected. Unemployment, rising prices, water problems
and corruption figured prominently among the problems that the respondents felt needed
However, it is still the Congress which is perceived as the party capable of solving major national issues. When key issues faced by the country were read out and their opinion sought on which party was best equipped to solve these, the respondents favoured the Congress to the BJP. As many as 52 per cent felt that the Congress alone was capable of providing a stable government. In the other two key areasmaintaining law and order and ensuring justice for the poorthe Congress was again ahead of the BJP.
While only 23 per cent of the respondents believed that the BJP was capable of providing a stable government, only 22 per cent felt that the party would ensure justice for the poor while 24 per cent were of the view that the BJP could maintain law and order.
The Congress economic liberalisation policy does not seem to have been received as well as Congressmen would have expected. On an overall basis, opinions are divided though on a very marginal scale they seem to be tilted in favour of the new economic policy. But 38 per cent of the respondents felt that opening the doors to foreign investment was a wrong move while 44 per cent favoured it.
As for the leader they considered most capable of being prime minister, the first choice was Narasimha Rao with Atal Behari Vajpayee a close second. Thirty three per cent of respondents opted for the former while 30 per cent for the latter. Surprise finding: Sonia Gandhi was the third most popular choice; about 10 per cent of the respondents opted for her. V.P. Singh, though he has reiterated time and again that he is out of the race, was fourth with 8 per cent.