India’s opposition BJP leads Congress party in poll ahead of national elections

A poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre indicates India's opposition BJP has a substantial lead over the incumbent Congress party with national elections due by in months

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 12:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 12:43pm

India’s Hindu nationalist opposition party is leading the incumbent Congress party in the run-up to this year’s national elections in the world’s biggest democracy, a poll released Wednesday says.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, trounced Congress in recent state polls which were seen as a gauge of voter sentiment in the nation of 1.2 billion. The general election must be held by May.

The Pew Research Centre poll said the Indian public, by a margin of more than three-to-one, would prefer the BJP to lead the next government over Congress.

It said 63 per cent of Indians prefer the BJP to lead the next government, 19 per cent prefer Congress and 12 per cent support other parties. BJP backing is consistent across age groups, the research found.

Pew, a Washington-based think tank, interviewed 2,464 randomly selected adults in states and territories that are home to roughly 91 per cent of the Indian population. The poll, conducted between December 7 and January 12, has a margin of error of 3.8 per cent.

Modi, the chief minister of western Gujarat state for the past 11 years, is credited with turning his state into an industrial haven. But critics question whether the Hindu nationalist chief can be a truly secular leader over India’s many cultures.

Rahul Gandhi, heir to the country’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, is leading the Congress party’s struggling campaign.

Congress has said it will not formally declare Gandhi as its candidate for prime minister – a bit of political manoeuvring aimed at protecting the 43-year-old from being a scapegoat for his party’s problems.

Congress has been battered by corruption scandals, internal feuding and an inability to deal with a stumbling economy and deep-rooted problems with poverty, infrastructure and education.

Modi also is facing his share of controversy. He has been accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in the state in 2002 that left more than 1,000 people dead, mostly Muslims.

Modi has denied any role in the violence and says he bears no responsibility for the killings. In December, he said that he had been “shaken to the core” by the violence and that his government responded to it swiftly and decisively.

Manmohan Singh has been India’s prime minister for the past 10 years but said in January that he would not seek another term. A technocrat, he was chosen to fill the prime minister’s seat in 2004 by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of assassinated prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul’s mother.

But Singh has been widely seen as a temporary measure; keeping the seat warm until Rahul Gandhi was ready to take what some supporters see as his birthright.