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HVK Archives: Did she or didn she: Experts differ on Sonia effect

Did she or didn she: Experts differ on Sonia effect - The Indian Express

Press Trust of India ()
March 7, 1998

Title: Did she or didn she: Experts differ on Sonia effect
Author: Press Trust of India
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: March 7, 1998

Leading psephologists are divided over the impact made by Sonia
Gandhi on the fortunes of the 113-year-old Congress Party in the
1998 polls.

While a Doordarshan analysis said the party polled 3.6 per cent
more votes than in the 1996 elections in constituencies where she
went and 2.8 per cent votes less in places she didn't visit,
others say it is very difficult to assess in isolation the exact
impact of her campaign.

While Bhaskar Rao of the Centre for Media Studies claims that
Sonia's campaign added about 35 seats to the party's kitty, Asis
Nandy of the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS)
says, "There is no empirical evidence to prove that otherwise the
party would have got less than what it got."

Rao, who conducted an opinion poll soon after the dissolution of
the 12th Lok Sabha in December last year, before Sonia announced
her decision to actively campaign had predicted between 80 and
120 seats for the Congress and its traditional allies.

However, Surjit Bhalla, citing four opinion polls published in
January, says, "There is not much difference in their (all)
predictions for the Congress (between 140-150) and the party's
actual tally.

nything above 145 is the Sonia factor, which is close to zero,"
says Bhalla adding that "a major chunk of seats attributed to
Congress inclusive of allies is contributed by former Bihar chief
minister Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal."

Bhalla as well as Nandy say there is no categorical method of
quantifying the onia factor'.

Yet another pollster, requesting anonymity, says his "gut
feeling" is that the party would not have got more than 100 seats
if Sonia had not been in the picture.

Referring to the DD analysis, Rao too says that "figures have no
meaning." but they have "gained certainly with Sonia.

Rao holds both the high-profile campaigns and the indirect effect
of the audio-visual media which followed her responsible for
Sonia's popularity.

"In a matter of six weeks she touched some 131 locations spread
across the country as no one else in Congress Party had done in
the previous decade.

In the first phase of her campaigning she chose those
constituencies where Congress was a sure winner.

fter registering overwhelming attendance in her meetings and
cashing in on the consequent media hype she toured areas where
the Congress chances were not that good."

Towards the end of January, says Rao, "she was viewed vis-a-vis
the Atal Behari phenomena," and projected as if the choice before
the country was between two people and not two parties.

"I believe that if Sonia had involved herself actively much
earlier, say prior to December then by middle of January, she
would have peaked out, says Rao.

The sympathy wave generated by Sonia by invoking family tragedies
was "neutralised" by the sympathy for Vajpayee "for being
deprived of his position earlier."

Her campaigns were not as interactive as those of other leaders,
says Rao, noting that in many cases "it was a touch and go affair
with no linkage with party cadres. Sometimes even the candidate
was not introduced."

Nonetheless, Sonia's participation did help the party, claims

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