x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Grim poll ratings mar Congress anniversary in India

India's scandal-rocked Congress party yesterday marked its last anniversary before it faces voters in 2014, amid dismal poll ratings and a growing clamour for the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to quit.

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, left, sits with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, at a prayer meeting to mark the death anniversary of his father and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, left, sits with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, at a prayer meeting to mark the death anniversary of his father and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

NEW DELHI // India's scandal-rocked Congress party yesterday marked its last anniversary before it faces voters in 2014, amid dismal poll ratings and a growing clamour for the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to quit.

An opinion poll by the CNN-IBN television network made grim reading for the government, with 67 per cent of respondents saying it has lost its credibility because of multiple graft scandals and 61 per cent saying Mr Singh should exit.

Analysts described the ratings as further evidence of a government in terminal decline, with Rajeev Malik, economist at investment house CLSA, saying the poll read almost like an "obituary".

Opposition calls have increased for the resignation of Mr Singh, who was shown on a recent magazine cover under the headline "Dr Dolittle" for overseeing a sharp economic slowdown and apparently turning an blind eye to years of corruption.

"Congress should apologise for its years of misrule," Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said yesterday. He said Mr Singh may be "prime minister but he is no leader".

Congress was shaken this month by the resignation of two ministers related to new scandals - one over government interference in a police corruption probe and another over a bribe allegation.

The latest controversies paralysed parliament and derailed government measures to further open up the heavily state-controlled economy.

They also came as the government was still reeling from 2010 charges that cut-rate allocation of telecoms spectrum may have cost the exchequer 1.72 trillion rupees (Dh113.86 billion) and heightened speculation about how long the minority administration can stagger on.

The Congress party mandate - the party was re-elected for a second five-year term in 2009 under the leadership of populist party president Sonia Gandhi - expires in May next year.

Ms Gandhi is widely regarded as calling the shots in the government and her son, Rahul, is being lined up by the party to take power.

But Subhash Agrawal, head of think tank India Focus, said the Congress party would struggle to stay in office. "The government is in a precarious situation," he said.

The party is clinging to power with the support of two regional parties but "there may be a time when they decide supporting the government is a liability and they pull the plug", said political analyst Parsa Venkateshwar Rao.

"No one expects this government to go its full term. The betting is it will call polls between October and February."

The mild-mannered Mr Singh, the pioneer of India's landmark economic reforms in the 1990s, was due to host a dinner yesterday to mark the left-leaning party's anniversary.

He was to issue a report card listing achievements that include a drop in those living below the poverty line to 350 million from 400 million.

The Congress party spokeswoman, Renuka Chowdhury, fired back at the opposition, calling it "pathetic and bankrupt" and asserting that the government would "pull off a hat-trick" with a third straight poll victory.

The CNN-IBN poll showed 56 per cent of respondents oppose yjr Congress party winning another term. Some 38 per cent wanted Narendra Modi, the chief minister of thriving Gujarat state, to run for the BJP as prime minister.

Mr Gandhi, who has shown reluctance to take the post, was supported by just 14 per cent of voters.

* Agence France-Presse