India Today


- (Aroon Purie)

His opponents gave the two-term American president Ronald Reagan the epithet of ‘Teflon-coated President’ as no criticism would stick to him. He rode through many crises, and his popularity remained unaffected through it all—sometimes even soared. The same can be said about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India has been through multiple crises and continues to be in a difficult place on many fronts, but his personal popularity stays undimmed. Indeed, it eludes ordinary means of calculatio­n. He is seemingly insulated against shock by an unquantifi­able element that can only be described as an aura.

Figures cannot adequately capture it, let alone explain it. But they present us with a map of India’s mind, allowing us to track the intriguing ways in which collective psychology works. The 44th edition of india today’s Mood of the Nation survey confirms what most observers know intuitivel­y. If you group together ‘Outstandin­g’ (22.7 per cent) and ‘Good’ (42.8 per cent), Modi’s performanc­e as PM is still rated highly by 65.5 per cent of respondent­s. This figure touched 78 per cent in August 2020 but has never dipped below 53-54 per cent since 2016. Even in ordinary times, this would have been a remarkable high to register for a prime minister well into his ninth year, when most leaders would have run into the wall of anti-incumbency. And these are not even ordinary times. War, pandemic and economic decline have all intruded on Modi’s tenure. It has not been an easy situation to master. So we have a fundamenta­l dichotomy: the gravity-defying resilience of this metric also comes in the face of a much higher degree of dissatisfa­ction on critical economic issues like joblessnes­s and inflation.

Transposed to voter intentions, the Modi factor also means the BJP and its coalition, the

NDA, have stayed reasonably immunised from the travails of the country. If an election had been conducted by August 1, 2022, the BJP’s vote share would have been 37.2 per cent—just a decimal number away from the 37.3 per cent it polled in the 2019 Lok Sabha election—though the BJP’s seat share would slip to 283 (from the 303 it won in 2019). But importantl­y, it would still be able to get a majority on its own. And the NDA, with a serviceabl­e 41.4 per cent, would still pool in 307 seats—the correspond­ing figures in 2019 were 45 per cent and 352 seats. After our poll was conducted, there was a sudden turn of events in Bihar this week, with Nitish Kumar dumping the NDA and forming a government with his old mahagathba­ndhan partners, which could possibly affect the BJP’s national standing. To gauge that impact, we commission­ed a snap poll on August 10. We found NDA numbers sliding slightly to 286 and the BJP to 275. That is, the BJP would still have a majority on its own, although a slender one. However, it is too early to tell how it will play out in the general election due in 2024.

Modi’s personal popularity offers interestin­g contrasts with the movement on other fronts. The starkest gap is when you consider people’s responses to their material well-being. Those who say Team Modi’s handling of the economy has been ‘Outstandin­g or Good’ have been declining steeply since the high of 70 per cent in August 2020—the figure has dipped below the 50 per cent mark it touched in January 2022. In its lieu, the segment that deems the performanc­e to have been ‘Poor or Very Poor’ has been snaking up consistent­ly—from the shallows of 5 per cent in August 2020 to 29 per cent now. The pandemic made mid-2020 a natural turning point for any government; its depressive effects leached into all economic matrices globally. And the war in Ukraine wrought a slight downturn since January 2022.

Grouped together, the responses to the question—‘How has your economic status changed since Modi took charge?’— should be a cause of worry for the prime minister. Between January 2017 and August 2020, the number of those who said ‘Improved’ breached 50 per cent once and never dropped below 40 per cent. But it is at its lowest trough now, at a mere 28 per cent. Those who say ‘Deteriorat­ed’ are at a high of 36 per cent now and, combined with those who say their lives have remained the same, the figure for the less-than-enthused crosses 67 per cent. Specifical­ly, high prices and joblessnes­s remain the two big pain points. Some 63 per cent say daily expenses have become unmanageab­le. And an overwhelmi­ng majority of 73 per cent pegs the job scenario as serious.

Another domain where the NDA government may do well to hearken to the trends: mapped along a socio-political axis, they do not throw up happy results. The number of those who say democracy is in danger in India has been rising—it’s at its highest point of 48 per cent now (and 51 per cent in rural India), having inched up through the 40s. There are early warning signs too that the number of people who think communal harmony is deteriorat­ing is rising. Also, only 50 per cent of respondent­s say they feel free to express their opinions on politics and religion—that’s perhaps more appropriat­ely defined as a glass half empty.

‘Mood’ is a complex thing to map, and Modi’s critics perhaps misread why he consistent­ly defies the standard biological logic of popularity graphs—onset, growth, decline. Why does he seem insulated from the hard knocks others would be subject to? One reason is the disarray in the Opposition: there is no leader to challenge him as yet, though our poll shows Arvind Kejriwal growing in stature. The other is that Modi is still seen as someone who can deliver through all the crises. Among his successes, Covid management figures on top. A remarkable turnaround from the negative perception during the second wave, it owes primarily to the massive vaccine programme his government rolled out in record time. That bolstered public confidence in Modi’s governance, as did his relatively scam-free reign. The larger message from the poll is for the government to focus urgently on the economy, especially on jobs and inflation, besides ensuring democratic freedoms and communal harmony. These will cement the trends and possibly enable Modi to win a record third term.

 ?? ?? January 31, 2022
January 31, 2022
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