Is Modi Mania Fizzing?

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Pundits puzzle whether this is the beginning of the end of PM Modi’s dispensation

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity ratings are falling steeply if not perilously from 65 per cent in January 2017 to 53 per cent in January 2018 and to 49 per cent in July 2018, according to India Today-Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey. But the BJP-led NDA coalition which he leads is ahead of the Congress-led UPA, even when the UPA gets the support of Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC). Congress president Rahul Gandhi is the most favoured prime ministerial candidate from the Opposition side, but he lags 20 points behind Modi, 29 per cent to Modi’s 49 per cent. Gandhi has quite a bit of catching up to do. The country is seven months away from the April-May 2019 general election. And there is much that can change between now and then. What is quite clear from the MOTN is that Modi is not as invincible as he seemed to be in May 2014. Four years is an eternity in politics and radical changes and reverses can take in the intervening period.

The Lok Niti-Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) MOTN survey for Anand Bazaar Patrika (ABP) in May 2018 shows that 49 per cent of the 15,859 people surveyed did not want the BJP government to return to power in May 2019, while 39 per cent did. This tallies somewhat with the other MOTN survey where Modi’s popularity rating stands at 49 per cent because Modi government generally translates into Modi as he remains the dominant figure. There is also a significant fall in the popularity ratings of the BJP, which stood at 39 per cent in May, 2017, fell to 34 per cent in January 2018 and to 32 per cent in May 2018, which marks a seven per cent fall in a year. In the same period, NDA’s rating fell from 45 per cent in May 2017 to 37 per cent in May 2018. It stood at 40 per cent in January 2018.

These results are to be expected after four years in office, and it may indicate that the 2019 election might witness their exit. But here we are in the realm of speculation and conjecture. The decline, whether steep or marginal, real or nominal, turns out to be important because Modi and BJP had created the magical web of invincibility. They projected the idea that people across the country are happy with the Modi government, and that many of them are hero-worshippers of the prime minister and his party. The surveys prick the balloon as it were and reveal that there are a large number of people who are not charmed by Modi and they are not impressed by the performance of his government. And this is how it should be in a democracy.

People are not going to be grateful to governments because leaders dole out largesse in the form of welfare measures – in Modi’s case it is the Ujjwala scheme where the provision of gas cylinders to rural women is supposed to be an emancipatory measure – and that they would not voice dissent of any kind. Even beneficiaries of government’s welfare measures are sure to hold critical views. Unfortunately, governments and leaders believe that they have purchased the loyalty of the people by giving them what is due to them. Modi and the BJP are committing the same political blunder.

The findings of the surveys come as a rude shock to the PM Modi and the BJP because they have wrapped themselves in the comforting illusion that all is well and there is no reason why people should be unhappy with the Modi government. Reality is always untidy and harsh. It is quite likely that the prime minister and his party will not be able to accept the reality until they are dealt the knock-out punch, as it were, at the polls in the summer of 2019. Sardar Patel had described power as an intoxicant. Too few politicians admit to the fact.

But it is too early for the critics to celebrate the defeat of Modi on the basis of the findings of these two surveys. If Modi’s opponents do not get their act together, then a vagrant Modi government can escape the jaws of defeat. At the moment, the Congress and other Opposition parties have nothing but the anti-Modi sentiment because they have been worsted at the polls last time round. That is not enough to win the polls next time round.

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