Voters across the sub-continent seem to be getting ready to witness a phoenix rise from the notorious ashes of communalism: Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections, has shed much of his Hindu nationalist image to become a forerunner in the race. Four months before Indians line up at poll booths across the country, Narendra Modi is already winning most of the opinion polls being conducted.
The ABP News-Neilsen survey, which presented its results in January 2014, projects a landslide win for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) lead by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), lead by the Indian National Congress (INC), is predicted to be completely washed out by a massive anti-incumbency wave. The poll, conducted in 28 cities around India, found 39 percent of respondents were favorably disposed towards the NDA while the UPA garnered only 22 percent of the votes. A sizable 19 percent of the 9000 respondents refused to make a choice. The survey predicts that the NDA and the UPA will win 226 seats and 101 seats respectively in the upcoming parliamentary elections, while 186 seats will be won by other parties and 30 seats by the Left parties.
The National Election Tracker, a poll jointly conducted by CNN-IBN,Lokniti and the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), claims that the Modi-led BJP has gained seven percent of the votes, while the Congress has lost one percent of the votes in the past six months. As a further blow to the Congress, the survey reported that the party performed poorly among rural respondents too, while the BJP seems to have their blessings. The Congress, which has always rode high on rural support, garnered only 26 percent of the votes. Narendra Modi and the BJP, on the other hand, seem to be winning hearts and polls alike across India’s geographic and economic expanse with 34 percentage of the votes.
Apart from surveys that cover the entire political spectrum, there are those that compare Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate with others in the running. Mood of the Nation, an opinion poll conducted by India Today Group, tries to deconstruct Modi’s ascent. The results show that public perception of Modi has positively increased in the survey period between August 2013 and January 2014. Modi, according to the survey, is seen as best representing economic development; he ranks high in his performance as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate; he trumps Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal as the most favored candidate; and is very fast being forgiven or forgotten for his alleged involvement in the Gujarat communal riots.
The Gujarat Chief Minister’s blazing rise to the top is creating ripples not just on the domestic political scene. The United States embassy in India has confirmed today that Ambassador Nancy Powell will soon meet with Narendra Modi as part of an ongoing effort to highlight ties between the two countries. However, the significance of the move is not lost on Indian political observers. The proposed meeting comes nearly a decade after the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the denial of a visa to Modi for his alleged involvement in the Gujarat riots. While it remains to be seen if the embargo on Modi will be lifted, there is no denying that he is winning polls at home and attention internationally.
By Aruna Iyer