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Why people endorse Modi’s economic performance despite economic slowdown

We need to talk about the role of fake news and misinformation in Modi’s popularity.

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In India Today’s Mood of The Nation Survey, carried out in July 2019, 60 per cent respondents said that the Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s economic performance was better than that of the UPA. Note that it was better only by contrast; the question was not whether it was good enough by itself. More interestingly, a significant 45 per cent respondents said their economic status had improved since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014.

These results are hard to reconcile with the reality of an economy slowing down. Even before the elections, we knew, thanks to a leaked report, that unemployment was at a historic high in India. There’s nobody who can say that demonetisation and a poorly implemented GST did not hurt the economy. What, then, explains Modi’s popularity, his Teflon coating, in the face of these harsh economic realities?

There are several factors at play. One is low inflation, which is Modi’s only real concern when it comes to the economy. Growth and job creation are being sacrificed to keep inflation low, so that people don’t complain of “mehengai (expenses)”, of daily necessities becoming unaffordable.

Another is Modi’s welfare schemes. Indians have for far too long been used to a mai-baap state. If the government is keeping inflation low and building me a house and a toilet and giving me Rs 6,000 in cash every year just for having a farm, what else do I want? Try explaining to people that even private sector job creation depends on the government’s policies.

Then there is the general faith in Modi, which is de-linked to any issues. It is not Hindutva or the economy or surgical strikes – it’s just that people like Modi, in the way they like a film star. Modi can do no wrong. Thirty-five per cent respondents said Modi’s ‘strong leader’ image was the reason why he won the 2019 election. Balakot was a separate point, which 16 per cent felt was the reason.

Also read: The economy is India’s most potent weapon, but it’s losing its power

Presumption of truth

All such surveys and myriad political analyses of Modi’s popularity are based on the presumption that the Indian voter has all the relevant facts to make up her mind in favour of Modi. What this presumption misses is the role of fake news. In any analysis of Modi’s popularity or Indian elections, you will hear people talk of a weak opposition, a co-opted media, Hindutva, low inflation, welfare schemes and so on. You won’t hear of people talking about fake news and misinformation spread through WhatsApp and other social media, often beyond our sight.

What makes people give a thumbs up to Modi’s economic performance when the economy is actually in a bad state? For many liberals the answer is Hindutva. But what if people don’t think the economy is actually slowing down? What if people think the economy is doing well. This comes through in the India Today Mood Of The Nation Survey. Sixty-six per cent respondents said Nirmala Sitharaman’s first Budget was good enough to help make India a $5-trillion economy in the next five years. That’s a thumbs up to a Budget so bad that the finance minister has since gone back on many of its key proposals.

The economic slowdown has reached such worrying proportions that even data fudging and the government’s denial is not hiding it. Modi won’t utter a word on the economic slowdown because why admit a problem when it’s easier to convince people that there is no problem?

It’s not that people are not experiencing unemployment — survey after survey since demonetisation has shown unemployment as the top concern for the public. In the Mood of the Nation Survey, 35 per cent thought it was the top concern. The missing link is that the people don’t blame the Modi government for unemployment. Modi can do no wrong.

During the elections, you could find people saying Modi was taking the nation to great heights, even as the opposite was happening to the economy. In east Uttar Pradesh, a villager told The Indian Express: “India is more respected in the world now. From 13th, it has come to fourth spot. Give Modi five more years and we will climb to number one.” Number 4 in what exactly? Never mind.

Also read: To avoid sinking to 1980s levels, Modi must take direct charge of economic policy

Blame everyone but Modi

As the economic slowdown becomes harder to hide, as even the doubtful GDP says we are growing at only 5 per cent, shareable social media ‘creatives’ have been screaming “Reality Check”. Not just India, the entire world is suffering an economic slowdown, they say. It’s the US-China trade war that’s the reason. In other words, why blame demonetisation or GST or Modi? They point out the low growth rate of European countries. Good luck explaining to the masses why that’s not comparable, or how demonetisation killed the India growth story even while the global economy was on a high. “While the world is headed for recession, critics only find PM Modi to blame,” one creative says.

We all get such messages on WhatsApp. We don’t realise the scale of this WhatsApp propaganda. There are 400 million Indians using WhatsApp and almost no one’s WhatsApp is free of political content arriving as if on its own.

One such ‘forward’ doing the rounds says:

Often heard nowadays that ‘Indian Economy is struggling’. Sit back & dispassionately think ‘is the economy really struggling or are business models struggling? Some food for thought:

1) Car sales are going down… but Ola / Uber are rising.

 2)  Restaurants are going empty… but home delivery is rising.

 3) Tuition classes are not getting students but online studying is rising 

 4) Traders are struggling but online market sites and reference-based direct selling are breaking all records in sales.

 5) Old commission-based businesses are snivelling… but online services, at low cost, are finding takers.

 6) Cell phone bills have reduced & internet penetration is increasing.

 7) Stable (read ‘Govt Jobs’) are dwindling but ‘Start up’ jobs offering equity & Flexi work time are expanding.

 8) Jobs seekers are reducing but job creaters are on the rise.

Working 40 hrs a week for 40 years is trend of past. Working for few years and spending quality time in contributing to society is the trend… 

The bitter truth is what we are experiencing is a transition phase and any transition is painful for the ‘well set’… ‘The masters of the past’. 

It’s challenging for those whose business models are based on ancient data….

Sunil Gavaskar style 35 not out cannot win one-day matches today. We need a Rohit/Virat style today.

It’s a mystery for those who have never looked beyond traditional methods or have assiduously resisted change of any kind.

 Economy is not struggling…

Business is Changing.


Also read: Fall in GDP growth needs to be reversed before it becomes a sustained downward spiral

Content is king, distribution is god

This is typical. Blame the world. Blame the people. Blame businesses for not adapting. Blame the changing environment. Blame everyone except the government. The scale and influence of such propaganda is so huge that you can meet people in chai shops and trains who will repeat it word for word. WhatsApp propaganda makes every Modi voter speak like a BJP spokesperson.

Fact-checking, leaving WhatsApp groups or reeling from such posts is not going to fight this propaganda. Fighting it will need distribution power — someone who has the ability to create and manage millions of WhatsApp groups.

Views are personal.

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  1. What is astounding in this article, is the hackneyed triteness and repetitive mindlessness of the words.
    In fact, I am shocked the author actually got payed for the cookie cutter template of words.

    No matter how many times he is told why Modi resonates with the janata, his brainwashing compels him to infantalise, dehumanise and other ‘them’.
    it’s cleverly worded as ‘,people’ but he really means ‘THEY’…unenlighted ‘Indians or ‘people’.. are so DUMB, they take decisions based on whatsapp forwards and fake news.

    What this implies is that the author presumes that fake news is not something people like HIM generate. Only ‘they’ generate fake news on whatsapp and elsewhere.
    Well, Twitter and the English press surveyed for just 24 hours will throw that assertion hard as a slap back into his face. The disgusting amount of fake news, agenda and propaganda propelled at the speed of light by so called journalists is an established fact.
    That so called Hate tracker by HT which had to to withdrawn and now, The Factcheck hate tracker are hanging there only by the ‘ legitimacy’ granted by the cabal of similar people.
    We have also observed how many prominent English language Indjan journalists tweet in tandem within minutes of each other using almost the same words. Isnt that from whatsapp groups propogating messages to so called independent journalists .fake or otherwise?
    And Rahul Gandhi’s entire campaign was built on fake news about the Rafale.. ably assisted by N Ram, The Hindu, and other such worthies. Didnt see this oaryicular warrior against fake news calling out The Congress fake news OR lamenting the general need to fool Indians.
    Clearly, the election results tell this aithor in resounding terms that Indians and ‘,people’ COULD distinguish fake from real and soundly rejected the Hugh decibel fake campaign created by the Congress and authors like one.

    Anyway…if even after so long this author’s brainwashing prevents him from understanding the insights that led to Modi, I can only suggest his organisation put behind a large scale focus group type research behind the Modi phenomenon. It would help them tremendously in getting a REAL education.

    Instead, they prefer to sit around with their colleagues, ponitificate, regurgitate the same crap over and over again and pray it is true.

    Good luck.

  2. Looks like this guy shivam Vij is book worm. he does not seem to understand simple fact. People don’t believe in statistics published in India. Indian statistics is one of the most unreliable in world. Even UN did not accept Indian figures.

    So people go by Ronald Regan’s famous quote.” it is state of mind when your neighbor is out of job it is recession, when you are out of job it is depression”.
    People have not lost their job neither do their neighbors So people don’t see economic slowdown. Most people are better off then they were five years ago.

    Only unhappy people are secus and minorities who feel end time has come. So places where these type of people are majority Congress won. BJP won on other places.

  3. Shri Vij, lets for the moment believe that all what you say is true. Then what is the alternative? Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav or perhaps Mamta Bannerjee? Who would be your pick?

    There are structural changes taking place and a stronger more resilient foundation is being laid but I dont want to get into the details because you just don’t have that ability to understand and comprehend. But do us one favour, watch your editors video on why Modi won and I hope that will make you go out and see the real country instead of just sitting in your balcony and reading newspapers written by people who are exactly likLIKE you

  4. Presently better off in India feels BJP and esp Modi is their best bet against regional caste based parties. Hence economy etc are of little relevance. But things may change in future.

  5. Some of my friends who are from the elite colleges argue that it is not Modi’s fault that the economy is going down. These are the same persons who held Manmohan Singh responsible for Nirbhaya’s . Modi is the Piped Piper and we the Indians r a t s are doomed.

  6. The comments below the article illustrate precisely what author has articulated. There are idiots even insisting Modi never steals. Indeed that is why environmental regulations are being torn apart, the public sector being completely eviserated, shady schemes like electoral bonds initiated, fighter plane contracts taken from the public sector and handed over to crony bankrupt capitalists by their dear Modi. This kind of wilful gullibility will destroy our nation.

    There are other idiots who insist that Modi is making Hindus live like first-class citizens for the first time. They at leat admit in this way that he has done nothing for the economy. For these Hindus living like first class citizens means the right to lynch Muslims and and keep them in a permanent state of fear. This is just to just to cover up their own disgusting insecurity and resentment about the failures that they are despite dominating the country in every way. I can only despair at the rapid road to fascism these Hindus have taken.

    What a scary time for the Republic!

    • Wrong my friend on all counts. The best is yet to come! Glorious days ahead for India.

      Anything other than Nehru Gandhi or UPA is definitely good for the country.

    • It brings to mind Hans Christian Anderson’s famous story of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’
      A vain emperor who cares too much about wearing fine clothes hires two weavers who are con-men who convince the emperor they are using a fine fabric invisible to anyone who is stupid. The weavers are actually only pretending to manufacture the clothes. Thus, no one can see the alleged “clothes”, but they all pretend that they can see the clothes and appreciate the beauty . As the emperor then marches in procession before his subjects, the townsfolk go along with the pretense, not wanting to appear stupid. Finally, a small child in the crowd shouts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all.. The emperor and the crowd realises the truth, but carries on pretending nevertheless.
      Very few people in the media like Shivam Vij have taken up the role of the child and is shouting the truth from the rooftops,but they are getting drowned out by the fake WhatsApp forwards and the emperor and his entourage is ploughing on regardless, though they know the truth.

  7. A distinction may have to be drawn between amazing popularity levels, as reflected in continuing electoral success, and endorsement of successful management of the economy. This very question was posed to Dr Subramaniam Swamy by Bloomberg. He has long called out the woes of the economy. He said that political troubles would start within a year, people in distress would come on to the streets, possibly as early as March next year if the economy does not begin to improve. Better to err on the side of caution than remain in a bubble.

  8. Shivam Vij, article after articles abuses Modi and blames him for everything under the sun. He parrots the same line “bad implementation of GST, “demonetization killed jobs when other economies were growing”. Etc etc without giving any data foe his twisted opinion. He is also insulting the highly aware Indians if they still do not understand him and continue to support Modi. What he also does not understand or pretends not to understand is that the reason why people support Modi is because noq they feel that they have a PM who is now corrupt and is seen to be working, taking tough stand on Pakistan, on economic offenders. At what point during UPA regime of which Shivam is a spokie, people got this impression ? It was a govt seeped in corruption. Has Shivam Vij conveniently forgotten this ? Every few days he vomits his frustration and desperation with rhetoric and no substance. Please be rest assured Modi is here to stay.

    • Very well and aptly said. But Shivam Vij does not want to see this side of the coin. He knows that shouting every day against Modi has its own rewards. With this mediocrity you can even get a Magsasay some day. So many are doing this and flourishing so why should I be left behind ?

      • May the Lord bestow Ravish Kumar’s mediocrity on many more Indian journalists. One can picture Deepak Chaurasia coming on stage in his silver space suit, to receive his Magsaysay Award.

        • The writer is simply pointing out that the economy is in a bad shape. That is true. Industrialists , economists and thought leaders who are otherwise allied with the BJP’s point of view are also raising their voices against the steep fall in production, low GDP a general economic malaise. The government’s own figures show that unemployment is at a historic high. In such times there would have protests on the street. There aren’t any now. Two reasons, an opposition whose failings while in power are etched in public memory and which is rudderless. Second, the complete capture of the media space which has made it impossible for most sections of the public to have access to the true position of the economy. A successful propoganda campaign has eliminated any possibility of coherent public consciousness. The result is a mute public even as factories are locking out and workers are being fired. The writer doesn’t claim that any Congress government was a Messiah with a spotless record. But the present government which claims to be the only party which has the nation’s interests in mind is getting away with an unprecedented economic downturn.

  9. Why people endorse Modi’s economic performance despite economic slowdown ? People do not endorse Modi’s economic performance, most of them do not even understand what is economic performance. All they know is that this man will not steal my money, more so when all the past rulers have allegation of thieving or facilitating the thefts. They will grant him the space for even mistakes.

    • Very well and aptly said. But Shivam Vij does not want to see this side of the coin. He knows that shouting every day against Modi has its own rewards. With this mediocrity you can even get a Magsasay some day. So many are doing this and flourishing so why should I be left behind ?

    • Ok agree…all they ‘think’ they know..

      And if if they actually come to know, they will pretend otherwise rather than be found for a fool.

  10. The world itself is facing an economic slowdown. US-China trade war is hurting all. Modi alone is not responsible, though he and Nirmala could do better. Constantly harping on Modi, Modi will ensure 2024 for BJP.

  11. It is a crisis of credibility. Commentators are correctly shouting from rooftops about the economic slowdown but suffer from inaudibility syndrome. It is a game of perception which the commentators in metros fail to read on account of mindsets, prejudices and biases and basing their assessment from AC drawing rooms, travelling by air and cabs. The perception of Modi’s governance is still strong. No comment on the economic situation but masses still have faith in Modi and his style of governance.

  12. There is a more powerful force than the economy that this author and the other lefty critics of Modi forget. For 70 years, the Congress and left parties (and their enablers in the media and academia) made Hindus feel like second class citizens in their own land. For the first time, Modi has given them a sense of pride in their own history and heritage. Before, they were made to feel ashamed of their identity. Modi is restoring a sense of dignity to their identity. This is a more powerful force than economics and jobs.

    • Here’s a nice thought experiment for you. Skip a meal, delay a doctor’s appointment next time you are sick, don’t purchase medicines, send your children to a government school, remove the air conditioner in your room, stop using your automobile, start cycling to work. Don’t sleep for than 5 hours a night.

      Try seeing if you can even get past the skipping a meal part. This is the reality of most of India. You are absolutely right, religious identity is very powerful. It can turn entire communities into lunatics who can suffer any indignity for unproven, unscientific beliefs . But hunger and deprivation will break the hypnosis. When that happens all of us will be in trouble because the masses will turn to violence. For some time the violence can be directed to the other communities. But one day that same sword will be used on you and me. And then the violence will be unstoppable because it will be backed by the sanction of religious and nationalistic identity.

      • Here is a bit of reality for you. Poverty has been in India for a long time, do not portray as if it is some new phenomenon brought on by Modi and the current lower rates of growth. In fact, poverty has been going down for 28 years now. This is a separate issue from Modi’s popularity. During UPA-2, when the growth rate went down, the nation felt disgusted and threw them out. But when the growth rate is low now, there seems to be more patience with Modi. The main difference is that Modi has given the broader Hindu community a sense of positive identity, where UPA2 actively worked to make them feel like trash about who they are. This difference gives Modi some cushion against economic fluctuations. Of course, if the economy continues to grow anemically, Modi will be in trouble. But he has the political cushion that UPA did not have.

  13. If secure and permanent jobs are absent,then Social upheavals and Immoral Acts to make both ends meet will result .Consumers are needed for spending for that Jobs are needed.This is a vicious cycle.Home delivery is for the reasonably well-to-do but visiting Eateries is for the Common People.Like there are many differences.

    • True to a certain extent. For the last 70 years, and even now, the vast majority never had ‘secure and permanent’ jobs. Still it never resulted in any kind of mass social upheaval , revolution or gross immoral acts amongst the deprived. In fact, more immorality can be found in those with secure and permanent jobs like government servants who indulge in bribe seeking, extortion etc. You will probably find more corruption in the professional class who are earning well, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers then those without jobs.

  14. I oppose the statement of slow down. Despite of economic slowdown worldwide india maintained its tempo run steadily. My home there are work but Labour is not available. Economic improved after modi govt. A just Rs 5000 enough to run middle class family, the same àt UPA period was 15000. People are shifting job to entrepreneurship. Thanks to modi sarkar

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