Too early to write off India’s Congress-led coalition
Is the sun setting on the Congress-led UPA government? India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is certainly riding high after victory in the southern state of Karnataka at the weekend , giving it a first chance to run a government in the south.And it’s the latest in a long losing streak for Congress in state elections. The question is whether the ruling party can turn things around.
The economy certainly isn’t helping. Rising inflation seems to have already wiped out whatever electoral benefits the farmers’ debt waiver might have brought. A slowdown in growth, already apparent in industrial production statistics, won’t help either.
So the first problem for the government is to bring down inflation in time for next year’s national polls.
For now, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is sounding optimistic, and a favourable monsoon would certainly help. But there is little relief on the horizon from global oil prices, and the government may soon have to bite the bullet and raise domestic fuel prices again.
Reining in inflation will be tough, but not impossible over the next year.
On the political front, all the momentum is with the BJP.
At times, Congress looks disorganised and rudderless. In several elections, Congress seems to have paid the price of failing to nominate a candidate for the chief minister’s job, and relying too much on the pull of the Gandhi family.
At the very top, many analysts are asking if the prime minister has provided the kind of strong leadership his country needs.
But a week is famously a long time in politics, let alone a year. State election defeats don’t bring down governments. It is how the parties react to these mid-term verdicts that can make a real difference.
And it is here that Congress has its chance. The BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh go to the polls this year, and if voters turf out the incumbents in all three, the BJP could indeed lose some of its shine.
Let’s not forget that only a year ago the BJP was beset by infighting and divided over what its electoral USP was — development or Hindutva. The ageing L.K. Advani does not always strike the right chord with voters across the country, and it is far from clear Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will emerge as a politician who can garner national support.
I have yet to see a national opinion poll which predicts a clear win for the BJP and its allies. The UPA is losing ground, but the BJP still has a lot of work to do to regain the top spot.