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Modi’s popularity is seeing biggest dive. Indians desperate for someone to fill the vacuum

The Mood Of The Nation Survey shows pessimists have overtaken the optimists when it comes to the country’s economic future.

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Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mood on Independence Day reflect the mood of the nation? As I went through the findings of India Today’s latest Mood Of The Nation Survey, released Monday, I could connect the two. If his body language betrayed nervousness, the survey showed the reasons. The Survey is no longer the gold standard that it used to be, yet this regular, biannual, nation-wide exercise still serves to track the popularity of leaders and parties. The latest round punctures the self-belief of the ruling dispensation, and it also belies the hopes of the opposition.

I am not referring to the survey’s seat forecast for a possible Lok Sabha election. (For the record, it projects that the BJP on its own will fall short of majority, though NDA will have a much-reduced mandate.) Frankly, I never take such projections seriously in the case of mid-term opinion polls. Even less so in this case, as half the interviews in this round of Mood Of The Nation Survey (MOTNS) were telephonic.

The starkest finding of this survey, minus the editorial sugarcoating, relates to a meltdown in Prime Minister Modi’s popularity. When asked to choose the next PM, as many as 66 per cent named Mr Modi in August 2020. The number fell to 38 per cent in January this year and has hit 24 per cent in August this year. In my 20-plus years of opinion polling, I cannot recall such an instance of nose-dive in any PM’s popularity. Expectedly, the India Today Group focused on the other, more ambiguous but less embarrassing, indicator that shows the PM’s approval rating decline from 74 to 54 per cent. No doubt Modi remains a clear front-runner, more than twice ahead of the nearest competitor, but now the distance is not immeasurable. If the Bengal election confirmed that Modi’s popularity could not translate into victory in state elections, the latest poll puts a question mark over the popularity itself.

Also read: Covid is frightening. But the bigger worry is Indians’ lost hope

No longer ‘outstanding’ 

The reasons for this meltdown are not what Modi critics would like to see. The fall in his popularity does not have much to do with Modi’s assault on secularism, federalism or democracy. If anything, the proportion of those who see abrogation of Article 370 and the Supreme Court ruling on Ayodhya as the biggest achievement of his government has grown over the last one year. There is beginning of unease over the government’s curbing of democratic expression. Only 40 per cent believe we enjoy the freedom to protest compared to 51 per cent who disagree. The proposition that our democracy is in danger evokes a split verdict: while 45 per cent agree, 47 per cent disagree with the idea. This trend is worth keeping an eye on, but as yet, this is not driving the drop in PM’s popularity.

Nor is his disastrous foreign policy, including the reversals on the India-China border in Ladakh. Those who believe that his government handled the Chinese border intrusion “very well” are twice as many as those who say the handling was “poor” or “very poor”. Clearly, propaganda machine of the government has successfully sold a lie. At least this far.

The government’s handling of the Covid is a different matter. No amount of whitewashing can conceal the reality from the public that has seen deaths and trauma first-hand. No wonder 71 per cent people think the real death toll is much higher than the official Covid death statistics. They are quite fair in apportioning blame: 44 per cent blame both central and state governments for the mishandling of the Covid crisis, compared to 13 per cent who blame only the central government, and 10 per cent who blame only the state governments. They also say that the opposition behaved irresponsibly during the pandemic. Yet, all said and done, over the last one year, the public perception of the PM’s handling of Covid pandemic has turned negative. Now more people say that Modi’s handling of Covid and Covid-related economic crisis was “poor” or “very poor” than those who say it was “outstanding”.

Also read: Modi’s India has lost hope. It needs a JP for the 21st century

Loss of hope 

The heart of the growing popular unease with the Modi government is the economic crisis, before, during and after the pandemic. This survey provides solid evidence, in addition to the already existing pool of data, that the people are not just losing income and jobs, they are losing their hopes too. As many as 86 per cent of the people polled in MOTNS reported that their family faced loss of livelihood or shrinkage in income. Only 17 per cent think their family income is likely to improve in future, compared to 34 per cent who expect it to worsen. Six months ago, optimists were more than double the number of pessimists when asked about the country’s economic future. Now the pessimists have overtaken the optimists. This impression is beginning to cast its shadow on the entire seven years of the Modi government: about as many people report a decline in their economic condition since Modi became PM as those who report an improvement.

Two factors stand out when you probe the reasons for this loss of hope. The first is “price rise”. Now, we must not conflate what the people call “manhgai” with what economists call “inflation”. Measured by the consumer price index, inflation is growing in the country but is still around 6 per cent, bad but not impossible. When the people complain about “manhgai”, more often than not, they are pointing to lack of purchasing power, or the rise in poverty. No wonder, over the last three waves of MOTNS, “price rise” has risen to be the number one “failure” of this government. Number two is unemployment. As many as 59 per cent now say lack of livelihood is a “very serious” concern.

Also read: Does ‘third front’ have a leader to beat Modi in PM race? What 12-state survey shows

Do the voters blame the Modi government for these economic problems? Yes, shows this survey. As many as 60 per cent blame the government for not having done enough to control price-rise (read poverty). People’s overall assessment of the government’s handling of the economy is turning negative. Worse, the proportion of those who believe that “only big business” benefits from the economic policies of this government has gone up to 46 per cent now. Clearly, “hum do, hamare do” is beginning to stick.

If these findings are somber for the PM, these are also sobering for the opposition. No opposition leader has gained dramatically from the PM’s sudden drop. Even if you treat Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka Gandhi as one entity, their rating has improved from 15 per cent to 18 per during the last one year. While the NDA has registered a drop of 5 percentage points in its vote share in this poll compared to the elections in 2019, the Congress has not gained anything. Both in terms of leader and party, the gains have been spread over the entire spectrum of the opposition.

The political message is loud and clear: There is a growing vacuum, and no one to fill it. The country is desperately searching for an alternative.

Yogendra Yadav is a political activist with Swaraj India. He tweets @_YogendraYadav.Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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