As Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao puts himself on the line in his re-election bid, he has much to cheer about. Factionalism and endless rumours of impending revolts notwithstanding, what has been established beyond doubt in this poll conducted by Outlook-MODE is that he enjoys near complete support of the Lok Sabha members belonging to his party.
In all, 93 Congress Lok Sabha members – 36 from the four southern states, 20 from the west, 25 from the east and 12 from the north – were interviewed. The small sample size in the north reflected the Congress’ poor performance in the region in the last Lok Sabha elections.
Even though there has been a lot of talk about Rao not having the requisite charisma and mass appeal, 76 per cent of those interviewed clearly favoured him as the best bet to lead them into the next Lok Sabha elections. The only other leader who attined double digit support – 13 per cent – among the MPs is Maharashtra strongman, Sharad Pawar. Nearly three-fourths of the respondents were confident that he would lead the party to power.
But what comes as something of a revelation is the fact that only one of the 93 interviewed felt that Sonia Gandhi would have been best person to lead the fourthcoming campaign.
This is not to suggest that Congressmen have totally given up on Sonia. Some of those interviewed privately said that her entry into politics would immensely benefit the party, but did not name her as their chosen leader because her plunge into politics remain a remote possibility.
What must also gladden Rao’s heart is the fact that Arjun Singh, who raised the banner of revolt against him, found no takers among those interviewed while the president of the breakaway faction. ND Tiwari, could muster only 2 per cent support. It is also interesting that the bulk of those interviewed did not seem to give much weightage to the Congress’ constitutional principle of one-man-one post, which had been one of Arjun Singh’s rallying points.
But this support within the Congress can take Rao only so far. While it will undoubtedly give him a chance to seek one more term in office, it is the people whose verdict will decide his fate. And as has been well-established by now, the Indian voter can be most unpredictable.