The next election is going to be all about money, in more than one sense.
For Aastha Sankrityayan, 46, the zeros in her paycheck are simply not enough. The rise in prices, especially of food items, have played havoc with her household finances.
"Groceries, meat -- prices of everything have risen. I spend around a thousand rupees more on groceries alone, every month," said Sankrityayan, with an air of resignation. There's not much one can do. "We have to curtail our consumption, fruits particularly," she said.
Another sense in which the next election is all about money is anger at the loss of public funds due to corruption under UPA-II. Here the zeroes are painfully plentiful: figures involved in the 2G, Coalgate and Commonwealth Games scams run into the lakhs of crores and present a big headache for the ruling coalition.An exclusive Hindustan Times survey - conducted by research agency GFK-Mode -- finds the issues of inflation and corruption to be the ones that are top of mind for voters as the country gets into an election mode. Which political party can handle the following issues better?
While 48% across India want inflation to be addressed immediately, the figure was much higher -- two-thirds -- in Tier-2 cities. And, worryingly for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the majority of respondents think the BJP is the party that may have the answers to India's problems, because they have waited too long, in vain, to see the Congress party deliver.
For Shifa Reyaz, a 19-year old domestic help working in Dwarka, Delhi, the biggest worry is the high price of LPG cylinders. "It costs us around 1,400-1,500 rupees now, which is why we've restricted our cooking to only twice a day. We usually just skip re-heating food before meals just so we can save on gas," she said.
Rising prices, falling vote-bank
This won't be the first or the last government to suffer because of high food prices. Sheila Dikshit was elected chief minister of Delhi on the back of, among other issues, the high price of onions in 1998.
High inflation leading to changes in state governments and threatening the stability of the Centre was a recurring feature through the 1970s and 1980s. And this is not the first time that the country has had to cope with high inflation for a long period.
Inflation stayed high through 2007 and 2008, but it didn't trigger the kind of disenchantment it has this time. That's because, this time around, jobs have shrunk and the economy has slowed sharply.
The afterglow of the boom times that marked the first term of UPA in power is all but gone. And all of this has happened under the watch of an economist prime minister, in whom the common man once reposed his faith. Inflation hits the poor the hardest. It is no surprise that the 56% of the urban poor participating in the Hindustan Times survey said the bigegst issue for the government to address is inflation.
What is also interesting is that urban residents worry less about corruption than those in rural areas. While 24% of urban respondents said corruption is an issue, the figure was higher for rural voters, 32%.
Across issues, across demographics, the people have spoken about which party would address anything from the fight against terror to job creation better. And the majority says: BJP."This government has done no good for the country since they came to power," said Rahul Shah, a management accountant in Ahmedabad. He reflects an opinion held by thousands of India's youth.
"The BJP has done enough good work in Gujarat to allow me to extrapolate that they will do so at the national level too," said the twenty-eight-year-old.
The overwhelming anti-incumbency figures in the survey may make next year's elections results seem to be a foregone conclusion, but that would be naïve. For Reyaz, despite the hardship, there is but one choice. "Yes, we will vote for Congress. We always do."
(With inputs from Khawla Zainab)