WASHINGTON  - Two months before India’s general election, a new U.S. poll suggests that the Hindu nationalist opposition party, led by Narendra Modi, is set to inflict a heavy defeat on the ruling Congress, the party’s worst in the country’s 67-year history.

A survey by Washington-based think tank, Pew Research, shows that Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, is more favoured than Rahul Gandhi of Congress in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Pew interviewed 2,464 voters in India, between December 7 and January 12. According to the survey, more than 60% voters in India favour BJP, while less than 20% voters favour Congress.

“With the Indian parliamentary elections just weeks away, the Indian public, by a margin of more than three-to-one, would prefer the Hindu-nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to lead the next Indian government rather than the Indian National Congress (INC), which heads the current left-of-centre governing coalition,” Pew Research said.

The survey also showed that less than a third of Indians are satisfied with the way things are today. The survey shows BJP as the most popular party with Indians, with around 64% backing in rural India and 60% in urban areas.

Other parties have the support of 12% of the population. The survey shows that BJP enjoys a major support in northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and New Delhi, with 74% people choosing the party over Congress or other parties.

Interestingly, the survey shows that the BJP has a meagre 54% backing in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Modi’s own state Gujarat. According to the survey, around 60% voters opined that the BJP will be more successful than Congress in creating job opportunities, reducing terrorism and check corruption.

While only 17% said thought that Congress would fare better in dealing with corruption.

Agencies add: India’s top court halted the freeing of four more killers of former premier Rajiv Gandhi on Thursday after a political uproar over a state government’s plan to release all seven.

The Supreme Court in New Delhi issued a temporary restraining order against releasing the four who are serving life in jail over Gandhi’s assassination in 1991 by a Tamil female suicide bomber.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week rejected the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s moves to set all seven free, saying it was against all principles of justice as the murder was “an attack on the soul of India”.

The court last week blocked the release of three of the men convicted of plotting the assassination, after Singh’s comments and his government’s urgent legal action against the move.

Chief Justice P. Sathasivam issued the new order on Thursday, after hearing the government’s arguments against releasing the other four, saying he needed time to examine the issues.

“There are two questions before us. The first is which is the correct government to decide on remission for these convicts and the second is whether the right procedure is being followed,” Sathasivam told the court.

Rajiv Gandhi, whose widow Sonia is now president of the ruling Congress party, was targeted by Tamil Tiger separatists while he was campaigning in the southern state in May 1991 before an election.

His killing was seen as retaliation for a 1987 Indian government pact with Sri Lanka to disarm the Tamil guerrillas. India later withdrew its troops deployed to the island after losing 1,200 soldiers at the hands of the rebels.

Rajiv became India’s youngest-ever leader after his mother, prime minister Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in October 1984. He ruled until losing an election five years later.

His son Rahul, who is the Congress vice president and the party’s frontman for looming general elections, voiced his sadness last week over Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s decision to free the killers.

Critics have said Jayalalithaa’s surprise decision was motivated by a desire to woo ethnic Tamil voters in her southern state for her regional party at the general elections due by the end of May.