Narendra Modi has been the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy two times consecutively. However, it would be interesting to know that if Modi squandered the opportunity or made good use of it.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Modi has enjoyed a long honeymoon with India’s voters.
Supported by stupendous and well-funded Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), Modi has pulled off two consecutive elective wins. Thereafter, he has been successful in launching a strenuous Hindu nationalist base in India. As a result of the charisma and guile that he displayed to become a magnet to the Indian voters, he successfully ruined the game of his opponents.
Narendra Modi has been born with such a fate that luck has always been on his side. The decisions taken by him such as scrapping the high currency notes or demonisation in 2016 haven’t affected his popularity. Additionally, the unanticipated pandemic doesn’t appear to have eroded his support. Moreover, the absence of a strong opposition has also helped him up his game.
The past 7 years have undoubtedly been gracious to the prime minister. The Modi government – which was doubly blessed by a historic mandate from the people and years of low oil prices and nationwide campaigns, like Make In India, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Aatmanirbhar Bharat and many more, proved to be successful by driving India to the path of development.
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Is the unassailable popularity of Modi beginning to fray?
In June 2021, a poll conducted by the India Today Magazine with 14,600 people, revealed that only 24% of the respondents considered the 70-year-old leader “best-suited” to be India’s next prime minister.
However, when a similar poll was conducted in the previous year, the number was higher by 42 points. “In my 20-plus years of opinion polling, I cannot recall such an instance of a nosedive in any prime minister’s popularity,” shared Yogendra Yadav, a pollster-turned-politician and a critic of Mr Modi with India Today.
Nevertheless, the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic situation proved to be the greatest hurdle in the way of his success. The image crafted with scrutiny took a global battering after his government was unable to manage the catastrophic second wave, resulting in death of tens of thousands of people. Till now, the Indian economy is struggling; inflation is high, fuel prices have surged and there’s been a drop in jobs and consumption.
The India Today Magazine poll was eye-opening and reflected the distress and distrust among people. Around 70% of people said their incomes had fallen during the pandemic and an equal number believed the real death toll was higher than the official 4,30,000.
Surprisingly, 36% of the poll’s respondents rated Modi’s handling of the pandemic as “good”. Only 13% felt that his government alone should shoulder the blame for the suffering of the people. 44% felt both the federal and states governments bungled their handling of the pandemic.
Putting the pandemic situation aside, the poll provides other clues as to why Modi’s popularity might be dropping. Inflation and lack of jobs emerged as the two major concerns. Almost one third of the respondents said failure to rein prices was his government’s biggest failure.
Is the decline in popularity so evident?
It has been pretty evident that Modi is a polarising figure. Ever since he came to power, the prime minister hasn’t held a single press conference. Moreover, he and his government have been accused of using dog-whistle politics by the opponents.
The recent ferocious protests over a controversial citizenship law and proposed farm reforms appear to have dented the prime minister’s image as an invincible leader. Additionally, BJP’s fatal defeat in West Bengal’s election in May has also emboldened his opponents.
Increasing number of the leader’s pictures everywhere, be it billboards, vaccine certificates, newspaper or TV adverts – could also be signaling the beginning of a decline of the personality. As per a parliamentary query, the government has spent close to Rs.4,880 crore of taxpayer’s money on their advertisement.
As per the reports, farmer suicides rose sharply during the Modi government’s tenure. In its final budget, BJP demanded a minimum support price at 50% more than the production cost, that satisfied no one. In parallel, the Modi government imported wheat and pulses which lead to a crash in the prices of domestic produce.
But do such polls – which employ different ways to sample voters – faithfully mirror the mood of a nation?
As per the records of Morning Consult, which tracks national ratings of the elected leaders of 13 countries, Modi’s approval rating has plunged by 25 points since May last year. However, at 47% in mid-August, Modi is way ahead of others.
In June, another survey by Indian polling agency Prashnam found that the Indian PM enjoyed a rating of nearly 33% as the preferred prime ministerial candidate in 2024.
Delhi-based polling agency CVoter, which conducts 10,000 interviews in 543 parliamentary constituencies all over India every week, found that Modi’s approval ratings stood at 37% in May 2021. There has been a significant drop of 22 points from August last year.
Regular polling is the key to accurately capture the public’s mood on leaders and their performances.
Interestingly, even the chief ministers belonging to Modi’s party continue to fare badly in the polls. 9 out of the 10 most popular chief ministers belonged to non-BJP parties in the latest CVoter poll. However, Modi manages to hold his ground. Many people still trust him and think his intent is good.
A dip in the ratings will not be enough to unseat PM Modi. And even at the lowest, his ratings are usually double and more than that of Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition party, Congress. So the prime minister could be picking up some extra approval points because of the lack of credible opposition.
At last, even if Modi still leads the race, the drop in ratings should worry him a bit.