Surveys Show Odds of Modi Returning as PM Are Now Less Than 50%

Electoral trends show that the probability of Narendra Modi becoming PM again has gone below 50% for the first time.

5 min read
The ABP News survey would reflect the trends of public opinion for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The last line of the one-page cheat-sheet provided by C-Voter on its survey results broadcast on ABP News should have been headlined: "Fieldwork for this round of tracker was done prior to the news of Priyanka Gandhi (Vadra) joining the INC."

The Quint’s report on the 'Mood of The Nation' survey conducted by India Today and Karvy also stated that it "doesn’t factor in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s appointment."

This makes the two surveys certainly pre-historic. Yet, and discounting that we all have bones to pick on how surveys are conducted, especially methodology and sample size, the two surveys provide a benchmark on what is the most likely scenario.

They are important indications about which way the proverbial hawa is blowing.

Since August 2017, when first signs of the second economic disruption became evident with the ham-handed roll-out of GST, things have not looked good for the ruling party. Coming within twenty months of demonetisation, which did not meet its stated objectives, people began expressing disenchantment with this government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Frustration mounted with its inadequate record of delivering promises, rising unemployment and rural distress.

Previously, this sentiment was suppressed but it found a trigger in the GST roll-out and this got coupled with the view that Modi was more concerned with style and statement with little substance. Warning bells sounded as Gujarat got closer to Assembly polls, eventually held in December 2017.

Since then, the slide of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi's personal popularity remain unabated. The 'best news' for the BJP from these successive surveys, disputed as imaginary by the party's publicists, was that occasionally the 'decline rate' was lower than previous.

The big inference which can be deduced from these surveys is that unless the trend reverses, there is a strong likelihood of the country facing another parliamentary poll before the next one is due in 2024.

2014, an Aberration?

It is now certain that in the absence of dramatic developments or due to a trend which is invisible or imperceptible currently, no party is going to get a majority of its own. We are preparing to declare 2014 an aberration – a once in an epoch kind of poll.

It is almost certain that the polls will yield a coalition government with a large number of diverse stakeholders. This will result in what Manmohan Singh termed the "compulsions of coalition governments".

Consequently, the practise of riding roughshod over coalition partners – as witnessed since 2014 – will have to be benched. The threat of one or two partners reducing the government to a minority status will loom large on the horizon unlike now, when Modi faces no such threat.

Unless the man at the helm is exceptionally astute with a capacity to accommodate conflicting aspirations of partners, the coalition may collapse under its own burden.

Depending on the political equation in the Parliament, there is a greater possibility of fresh elections being called in such an eventuality because an alternative government may not be feasible.

The second major takeaway from these surveys deal with Modi's chances of securing another term in office. In March 2017, such was the certainty over his return that Omar Abdullah made this statement, about which he should be embarrassed now. But with dissatisfaction levels rising, Modi entered the iffy zone post August 2017.

He has remained in that position throughout despite the wafer-thin victory in Gujarat, the shot at governance after a come-from-behind performance in Karnataka and after almost matching the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan despite high anti-incumbency levels.

After these two surveys and personal assessment based on conversations with political leaders, election analysts, data experts and people who have been engaged in election management, it is reasonably certain that post Priyanka’s entry into politics, the probability of Modi becoming prime minister again has gone below 50 percent for the first time.

In the lingo of game shows, the prime minister is no longer in the “safe zone”!

This is a huge moment in India's sentiment tracking and this conclusion stems from two factors. First, opinion polls and surveys are always consciously 'conservative' and 'play safe', whatever be the reason. In 2014, not a single pre-poll/survey correctly estimated the sentiment in favour of the Modi-driven BJP.

All of them, however, got the direction correct – that the BJP was significantly ahead of the Congress-led UPA. This has been the norm in most opinion polls.

If past trends are applied in the present context, it means that the weakening of the Modi charisma is much greater than what is being estimated.

Correspondingly, the popularity of both Rahul Gandhi and that of regional parties is much higher than what is being gauged.

Second, and more importantly, both surveys give NDA seats in the range of 230-240 and UPA in the 165-170 range. Others will command between 140 and 145 seats. The BJP would have a tally of just around 200.

Uncertainty Over Modi’s Second Term

Since 1996, the combined BJP-Congress tally in Lok Sabha has been in the range of 283 (2004) to 326 (2014). For the sake of pre-poll calculations, we average this at 300, meaning that if the BJP wins 200, the Congress tally would be around 100 seats.

Given the high scores on 'like' and 'dislike' indices that Modi generates, one can say his chances of becoming prime minister is greater only if the BJP has a final score of 200-plus. Anything less than that reduces the probability to lower than 50 percent, which is the current situation.

Anything below 200 for the BJP would be a mandate symbolically against the government/Modi. Previously, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh took a moral position that the vanquished should not be in government. It disallowed Pramod Mahajan and Jaswant Singh to become ministers in 1998 in the Vajpayee government because they lost the polls.

The RSS does not look at politics in the short run and it is not a collection of a handful of leaders who can impose a decision. There is a strong chance that the RSS would argue for an alternate leader from the BJP even if the party can form the government.

For Modi, the trend can be salvaged but only if he stops acting like a deer under headlights.

For almost two years, Modi has failed to reverse the trend of public opinion and now needs to stage a Houdini act to realise his ambition of steering India through its 75th year of independence.

And he does not have much time. The moot question is whether he succeeds in scripting the most remarkable of rearguard actions.

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached at@NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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