India's ruling coalition could have won a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha if a parliamentary election had been held early this month, says a survey published on Sunday, noting the steadily rising popularity ratings of both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The Opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would have been the worst sufferer in the election while the Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), could have made significant gains, reported the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), which conducted the survey for The Hindu and CNN-IBN Aug 1-6 across 19 states.
"Had a Lok Sabha election been held in the first week of August, the UPA would have won a comfortable majority on its own," said the report authored by Sanjay Kumar, Rajendra Karandikar and Yogendra Yadav and published in The Hindu.
"The ruling coalition's tally could have crossed 300 seats, substantially more than the 222 the Congress and its allies won in the 2004 elections," it said. "The gain is mainly at the expense of NDA. An election in August would have seen the NDA's tally reduced from 189 seats in the last elections to only 120."
The survey said the UPA owed its gain almost entirely to the Congress, which was projected to get 240 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha, only some distance away from a simple majority but more than what it secured in any parliamentary election since 1991.
The survey showed that the BJP would have registered its worst performance in 17 years. It was projected to get 82 seats, four short of its tally in the 1989 Lok Sabha election. The Left, which backs the Congress-led UPA, were likely to retain their current tally of about 60 seats.
A similar survey conducted by CSDS in January this year also found the UPA and Congress registering major gains. It was then predicted that the ruling coalition would have won 274 seats while the NDA tally would have been about 150. It is clear that UPA's popularity has risen while NDA has suffered further losses.
The survey findings should please both the government and the Congress because it comes at a time when Manmohan Singh continues to battle several major issues: unending farmer suicides, the Natwar Singh saga, rising prices and the row over seat reservations in institutions of higher learning.
The survey said the overall level of satisfaction with the central government was higher than it was for its NDA predecessor. At the same time, the number of people who think the government has performed worse than expected exceeds the number who think it has performed better than expected.
Voters also feel that the situation has worsened in key areas such as corruption, national security, prices and the condition of farmers.
The survey said three factors were working in favour of the Congress. One was the "robust" popularity rating of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, who is also the UPA chairperson. This, it said, was "only getting better".
On the other hand, the leadership crisis in the BJP had left no one in a position to occupy the space vacated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
There was also a subtle but clear shift from regional parties to national parties. The Congress, and to a lesser extent the BJP, would be beneficiaries of this trend in many states.
Finally, the cycle of incumbency favoured the Congress at this juncture because it was not in power in many states. In sharp contrast, the BJP was facing major problems in key states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, all of which it rules. Only Bihar, Orissa and to an extent Gujarat were still with the NDA.
The survey said it was clear that the Congress, India's oldest political party that had ruled the country uninterrupted from 1947 to 1977, was "beginning to regain some of the social ground it lost in the 1990s".
It said 35 per cent of respondents favoured Sonia Gandhi becoming the prime minister while 25 per cent felt Manmohan Singh should continue. Sonia Gandhi's popularity was put at 27.9 per cent, compared to the 18.5 per cent of Vajpayee, the next popular national leader.
In contrast, Manmohan Singh's popularity ratings were 12 per cent and that of BJP's LK Advani a mere 1.9 per cent.