As the Election Commission is all set to hold the general elections and the government too is ready for battle after its interim budget, the season of surveys to gauge the mood of the electorate has dawned on New Delhi.
In an intense survey done in some 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh dominated by Muslim voters, the Congress party has found that the Muslim votes will be divided this time between itself and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
According to a source in the Congress, the Samajwadi Party's MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination will break this time due to the Samajwadi leadership's association with former Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kalyan Singh who was chief minister when the BJP's agitation led to the demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992.
The secret survey claims that Mayawati's BSP will be getting an almost equal share of Muslim votes as the Congress. The survey done by the latter at quite a high cost, also says that if the Congress and SP join hands before the elections, then Mayawati's march to New Delhi can be somewhat thwarted.
The Congress survey thinks that in the absence of a Congress-SP alliance, Mayawati will win more than 40 out of 80 seats in UP. The survey is an eye-opener for the Congress. It seems that inspite of the ongoing rhetoric and sometimes ugly exchanges between SP leader Amar Singh and Congress leaders, it is most likely the Congress and SP will sew up an alliance to defend their turf against Mayawati once elections are announced.
An alliance with the SP makes sense for the Congress because restricting Mayawati also helps it to weaken the prospects of a third alternative that is likely to emerge after the elections. The Congress has much more to lose from the emergence of the third alternative.
Also, in terms of future planning, the Congress will have to strengthen Rahul Gandhi's position vis-à-vis the BSP's Mayawati and BJP's Narendra Modi, both of whom are likely to dominate Indian politics in the coming decade and will pose a direct challenge to Gandhi. The Congress's alliance with SP thus is "advantage Rahul Gandhi's leadership" as well.
The Congress is also facing a challenge from an emerging "alternative" within the United Progressive Alliance. As the Nationalist Congress Party's Sharad Pawar has secured the support of SP's Mulayam Singh Yadav if and when he throws his hat into the prime ministerial ring, the road to 7 Racecourse Road is getting wider.
The Congress is getting similar figures from its surveys and feedback as the NDA had got before the 2004 elections.
According to another nationwide survey done by a New Delhi-based think-tank and a television channel, the Congress-led ruling coalition has an edge over the NDA and will get around 40-45 seats more than the NDA. The exact figures will be revealed in the coming weekend.
The UPA, which consists of mainly the Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, NCP, Rashtriya Janata Dal and smaller regional parties, seems to have received favourable reports so far in the TV survey. But its findings are likely to be contested by the NDA which mainly includes the BJP, Akali Dal, JD-United and the Biju Janata Dal.
The Congress source said the AIADMK, Left parties, SP, Telugu Desam Party and BSP are expected to get around 150 seats as per their formal and informal surveys done over the last few months.
While this contention of the Congress is debatable, there is no doubt that shades of 'India Shining' campaign, which the NDA projected in 2004, has returned to the Congress party. As the bombardment of publicity material through newspapers and TV is about to begin, one will see more of it in the days to come.
N Ram, editor of The Hindu, said in a TV debate last night that the Mumbai terror attacks will be a turning point in politics. The Congress party believes that the steps taken by the government has blunted the BJP's attack on the issue of terrorism, and this belief is giving it new confidence on election-eve.
The TV channel's nationwide survey also claims that the sliding economy is the real issue for the voters, and luckily for it the Congress has more alibis for its action or inaction on the economy than on terrorism.