The India Today media group’s bi-annual ‘Mood of the Nation’ survey has been telling us, for the last three editions, that Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh has been found to be “the best chief minister” in the country.
The media group keeps screaming out this finding at the top of its voices. It almost sounds like India Today has made a discovery and Eureka! We must all talk about this discovery. The media group then proceeds to discuss Yogi Adityanath’s achievements in a gushing, celebratory tone. The superlatives don’t stop flowing. The cover stories, the fancy photo shoots, the prime time coverage on associated channels, the intermittent posts on social media that act as reminders — it’s a complete package.
This enthusiastic celebration of Yogi Adityanath’s leadership would suggest that people in Uttar Pradesh are very happy with their chief minister. But are they? Not quite, as India Today’s own data reveals.
When people of a state get to rate CMs of all states
You don’t even have to step into Uttar Pradesh to be skeptical of this claim. Is the data by Karvy Insights, the survey agency, questionable? You have to read the fine print in India Today’s explanations to realise it’s not the data that is problematic but how India Today presents it.
Every six months, the media group gets Karvy Insights to ask thousands of respondents all over the country, “Who do you think is the best chief minister in India?” In other words, a respondent in Chennai can name Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi. And a respondent in Shimla can pick Uddhav Thackeray of Maharashtra as the best chief minister in India.
In other words, this ranking is not a reflection of a chief minister’s popularity within their state. A CM could be doing very well in his/her state but could still rank poorly in a nationwide poll where every chief minister is in the race.
The ‘Mood of the Nation’ or MOTN survey does note how a chief minister is doing within his/her own state, but this data is sparingly put out and severely downplayed. For example, in the latest (August 2020) MOTN, Yogi Adityanath’s popularity rating in Uttar Pradesh is 49 per cent, lower than Nitish Kumar’s in Bihar (55 per cent), Mamata Banerjee’s in West Bengal (59 per cent), Arvind Kejriwal’s in Delhi (63 per cent), and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s in Andhra Pradesh (87 per cent). Uddhav Thackeray gets an approval rating of 44 per cent from respondents in Maharashtra.
In the all-India ratings, Yogi Adityanath is rated the best chief minister by 24 per cent respondents. Which states did these high ratings come from? Are they spread throughout India or concentrated in a few Hindi heartland states? Only 2 per cent respondents think Vijay Rupani of Gujarat is the best CM in India. It is possible, then, that BJP supporters in the Hindi heartland think Yogi Adityanath is the best CM because they’re not going to rate a boring Vijay Rupani above Adityanath. Similarly, BJP supporters in Rajasthan certainly won’t rate Ashok Gehlot as the best CM, and they too would likely pick Hindutva icon Yogi Adityanath as their choice for favourite CM.
Yogi Adityanath’s ratings in the all-India survey has increased from 18 per cent in January 2020 to 24 per cent in August 2020. These numbers, high as they may seem, correspond roughly to the core Hindutva constituency. When the BJP loses a national election, as in 2009, its vote share hovers around 20 per cent. We can thus presume this is the core Hindutva constituency that votes the BJP even when it is losing.
How relevant or important is it to know which chief minister is popular across India? The only use of such a finding is in the context of national politics. The BJP may well bring Yogi Adityanath to national politics. Sure, but for now the more important metric is ‘home state popularity’. It is far more important to know how Yogi Adityanath is doing in Uttar Pradesh than how he is perceived by residents of other states. That’s because his performance in UP has a bearing on the next assembly election in the state. If Yogi Adityanath loses the 2022 UP assembly election, his all-India rating will mean nothing.
Projecting a political rating as a governance rating
Two years ago, in August 2018, India Today MOTN found Mamata Banerjee to be the favourite CM among respondents all over India. This is the caveat the media group carried along with its report: “Since the MOTN is a subjective study of voter perception across the country, the No. 1 status is more a reflection of political popularity rather than a test of governance.”
But consider this: Ever since Yogi Adityanath has started winning the top slot in this survey, India Today has stopped putting out this statement reflecting the difference between politics and governance. The media group takes the all-India result and goes into a trance about Yogi Adityanath, like a grandmother celebrating the first grandchild, distributing sweets in the entire village.
Instead of the disclaimer, India Today now explains why the “Karma Yogi” has emerged as “the best chief minister”. For example, in August 2019, the media group published its report with lines like: “That one of the two defence industrial corridors, announced in the Union Budget in 2018 will pass through Bundelkhand, UP’s poorest region, is expected to give a leg-up to development in UP and raise Adityanath’s stock.”
Such staid sentences about announced projects that haven’t yet seen the light of day are standard in government pamphlets. It sounds like a copy-paste job from the Uttar Pradesh government’s publicity department. Moreover, what happened to the media group’s own explanation of this being a political ranking and not really reflective of governance? Was it a distinction meant only for Mamata Banerjee?
The Yogi paradox India Today won’t talk about
In its January 2020 survey, the media group did not reveal any home state rankings at all. Perhaps Yogi Adityanath’s rankings were so bad that it would have made their celebration of “best CM” look silly.
In their report about the August 2019 survey, the last paragraph mentioned that in ‘home state’ rankings, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha fared the best with 75 per cent, closely followed by Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan with 73 per cent. By contrast, their “Karma Yogi” managed only 54 per cent, as did Nitish Kumar.
It is to be noted that in their own ‘home state’ rankings, Yogi Adityanath’s ratings fell from 54 per cent in August 2019 to 49 per cent in August 2020. This important detail must be brushed aside to let India Today run its “best CM” line for a leader who actually fares rather poorly in the estimation of his own voters.
One would expect India Today to pick up the paradox in its own survey: that Yogi Adityanath’s popularity across India is increasing while his popularity within UP is declining. But it doesn’t.
‘Home state’ irrelevant for India Today
India Today doesn’t reveal ‘home state’ popularity figures of all chief ministers, and sometimes it skips talking about ‘home state popularity’ altogether. In the editorial judgement of the India Today Group, it doesn’t seem to matter what people in Rajasthan think of Ashok Gehlot, what people in Gujarat think of Vijay Rupani, or what people in Tamil Nadu think of Edappadi K. Palaniswami.
We know that Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee aren’t doing very well these days. Mamata Banerjee has received flak for Amphan cyclone relief distribution, and before that, her initial fudging of Covid-19 data. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar has come across poorly in crisis after crisis, be it related to migrant labourers or the handling of Covid or floods. He may be the frontrunner for the CM’s post in the imminent election in Bihar but voters are likely to choose him more because they don’t feel they have a viable alternative, and less because they think he has been doing a great job.
Given these realties, if Yogi Adityanath is faring worse than Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar, he is far from the best chief minister in India. He’s probably one of the worst performing CMs in India Today’s survey, which we might be able to verify if the media group had the integrity to reveal its full list of ‘home state’ approval ratings of all chief ministers.
The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.