Rao clutches at straws of poll oblivion

India's premier is somehow hopeful of keeping power despite a bleak election outlook

It was the last campaign rally in India's marathon general elections for the prime minister, Narasimha Rao, and possibly his last ever. The crowd was sparse; the rows of empty seats in the Jammu stadium glared out at as he lectured like a dusty, old schoolmaster who had long ago lost his pupils' attention.

A bad week, indeed, for Mr Rao. At rallies from Bihar to Jammu more people turned up to see his giant helicopter than him. Four opinion polls predict that in the three rounds of general elections - which end today - Mr Rao's once-mighty Congress Party will fare worse than it ever has since independence. And, to top it off, his personal guru, Chandraswamy, was arrested on charges of fraud, in which the prime minister, too, has been tainted.

Yet Mr Rao seems unflappable. Reporters on the premier's airplane back from Jammu found the usually stone-faced Mr Rao to be combative.He clings to the slender possibility that the Congress Party, even in disarray, may be able to cement together a coalition government with the leftists and some of the regional parties. Mr Rao, who is 74 and has a history of heart ailments, believes that he, again, could become prime minister.

As Mr Rao figures it, the third-placed National Front-Left Front (NF- LF) - a loose and often loopy assortment of communists, socialists, regional strongmen, and parties representing Muslims and those Hindus on the bottom of India's social hierarchy - will never hook up with the BJP. The leftists accuse the BJP of brewing up an incendiary mix of politics and Hindu chauvinism.

Mr Rao is gambling that, eventually, the leftists will turn to Congress - and to him - to stop the BJP from enforcing their Hindu revivalism on India.

The odds are against Mr Rao. The BJP, led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, a gifted orator who is probably the Hindu party's sole liberal, may sweep as many as 200 out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, according to some forecasts. If so, the BJP may succeed in patching together its own coalition with the extremist Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the Sikh Akali Dal in Punjab and a few scattered MPs in Haryana and Andhra Pradesh.

If the BJP cannot put together a government, it will be Congress's turn. Even then, Mr Rao may find himself dumped. Many leaders within the rag- tag NF-LF have vowed never to hitch up with Congress while Mr Rao is in charge. The NF-LF blames Mr Rao for the destruction of a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu militants. Dogmatists within the NF-LF also accuse Mr Rao of selling out to western multi-nationals in his attempts to liberalise India's rusty socialist economy. Jaipal Reddy, a spokesman from one of the NF-LF's parties, put it bluntly: "If Narasimha Rao is not the leader, we are prepared to do business with the Congress."

Meanwhile, Congress members have lost all sense of decorum. Expecting a rout in the polls, some are baying for Mr Rao's departure as party president. Others are plotting the return of such prominent Congress renegades as Madhavrao Scindia and Arjun Singh in Madhya Pradesh, NT Tiwari in Uttar Pradesh, and P Chidambaram and GK Moopanar in Tamil Nadu. Mr Rao has made too many enemies, sacrificed too many party stalwarts in his quest for a second five-year term.

Within Congress, a replacement for Mr Rao is also being sought. One contender is Sharad Pawar, a muscleman from Maharashtra. Another candidate might be Mr Scindia, the young and erstwhile Maharajah of Gwalior. It was his open revolt against Mr Rao, by running as an independent, that shook the party.

As Vir Sanghvi, a columnist in the weekly Sunday, opined, "To hope, as Mr Rao does, that he survives while the Congress dies, is foolish. He has guided the Congress to these depths. And if it sinks, he will drown with it."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Manager - Business Support Transformation, 1 year contract

£550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Walthamstow...

Head Of Development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This excitin...

PHP Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: PHP Developer...

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor