BJP heading for easy win

An Indian Congress Party activist participating in a silent protest as he displays a clay statue of 1913 Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Calcutta, Saturday, during a protest against the theft of Tagore's Nobel prize medal. At least 30 items, including the medal belonging to Tagore - who won the Nobel Prize for literature, disappeared on Friday from the museum at Visva Bharati University, some 200km north of Calcutta. - AFPpic

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist-led coalition will return to power easily in elections beginning next month, an opinion poll published yesterday said. 

The rival Congress Party, led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, could slump to its lowest-ever numbers in parliament, the survey published by the Indian Express newspaper said. 

Two earlier polls said Vajpayee would lead the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition to a comfortable victory riding on strong economic growth, rapprochement with Pakistan and his personal popularity. 

Since coming to power at the head of a coalition comprising secular regional parties, the BJP has set aside its hardline Hindu agenda that helped bring it into the political mainstream in the 1990s. 

The BJP-led coalition is campaigning on a platform of development and good governance and will win between 287-307 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament, more than the 272 required to rule, the Express said. 

The grand old Congress party, whose chief Sonia Gandhi has been consistently targeted for her foreign origins could, along with its allies, take 143 to 163 seats, the poll conducted by A.C. Nielsen for the Indian Express and NDTV said. 

The BJP-led coalition controlled 303 seats in the last parliament and the Congress-led alliance had 140. 

The Congress on its own is forecast to win 90 to 100 seats, according to the new poll, an all-time low. The party won 114 seats in the last election. 

The Congress is banking on Gandhi, the torch-bearer of India's celebrated Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, to propel the party back to power after a slump in popularity. 

Her son Rahul Gandhi will contest the elections for the first time. 

The party ruled India for most of the five decades since independence in 1947. But some say the party has lost its pro-poor image and it came to be seen as a part of the rich after it decided to liberalise the economy in the early 1990s. 

The Indian Express said the survey carried out earlier this month covered more than 45,000 voters spread across 207 key constituencies.  

But opinion polls in India, where about 670 million people are eligible to vote, have had a mixed record in the past. 

Most polls failed to predict big wins for the BJP in key state elections in December which prompted the ruling coalition to bring forward national elections not due until October. – Reuters  

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