Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the US this week to meet Donald Trump and global business leaders amid growing worries over economic slowdown. At 5 per cent GDP rate, India’s economic growth hit a six-year low, and sectors like automobile are reporting unprecedented decline amid job cuts and liquidity crisis.
ThePrint asks: Is sinking Indian economy beginning to chip away Modi’s larger-than-life image?
Modi has developed a Teflon-coated image & that’s why slowdown hasn’t dented his popularity
Founder and Managing Director, CVoter
The C-Voter data does not show any reduction in the popularity rating of Narendra Modi on the basis of the economic situation. What’s more is that his popularity after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has only gone up, particularly after the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370. So, it looks like Modi has developed a Teflon-coating around himself, and that’s why the current economic slowdown has not had any impact on his popularity.
One must remember that economic concerns such as slowdown and unemployment were constantly raked up during the entire campaign period of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, barring the two-week period after the Balakot strikes that saw national security and anti-Pakistan sentiment take precedence. The point is that these issues did not impact the election results.
This shows that issues of national security probably weighed more than the issue of employment at that time. Questions on the economy and job crisis still loom large, but Indians seem to be eternally optimistic. This optimism shows no signs of dying down, and is probably the biggest contributor to the high popularity rating of PM Modi
The tentative numbers we are getting for the possible outcomes in the three upcoming state elections do not promise much for the opposition. So, I would not be surprised if the BJP wins in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand. It seems like Narendra Modi’s popularity is only increasing and remains absolutely undented.
Indian economy is sinking but it won’t take Modi’s image down with it
Economist and Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation
The Indian economy is unquestionably sinking, but it won’t take Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image down with it. People who thought that his popularity with voters arose from his credentials as an economic manager were deluding themselves, deliberately or otherwise.
The fact is that any economic success that India has achieved in the five-plus years of Modi’s government has neither been caused by his actions nor contributed to his popularity. He is seen as a strong, rooted leader – and this image will continue to grow no matter how poorly he manages the economy.
Across the world, anyone who has once voted for populists continues to support them even when it has been determined that they are abysmal administrators unable to live up to their promises of bringing prosperity for the people.
Even after years of slowdown and crisis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan by far continues to be Turkey’s most popular politician. I don’t see why Modi would be any different. He bears complete responsibility for India’s economic slowdown, through acts of both commission and omission, but his partisans will seek to blame everything and everyone else but Modi.
Economy is weak but BJP’s PR apparatus manages to divert public conversations away from it
Senior Visiting Fellow at CPR and Assistant Professor, Ashoka University
What needs to be noted while discussing Narendra Modi’s larger-than-life image and whether it is being chipped away is the absence of a strong opposition at this juncture. When it comes to Modi, we have seen that people have complete trust in him and in his office. It is this trust that allows Modi to frame and decide issues, as we saw in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The economy is definitely weak at the moment but one must understand that the BJP’s media and communication apparatus diverts public conversations away from it. This, combined with the level of trust, allows Modi to frame the narrative. It is because of this that the chipping away of Narendra Modi’s popularity becomes an extremely unlikely possibility anytime in the near future.
For Modi’s popularity to take a back seat, there needs to be a challenger, which is only possible with a stronger opposition. What is essentially required is a transfer of popularity. However, Modi’s ability to communicate with the voter is immense. And the opposition neither has the means to communicate with the voter nor the kind of trust the BJP enjoys among the electorate.
Opinion polls prove economy matters to Indian voters. Sooner or later, voter discontent will show
Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to enjoy immense popularity across India, and the massive mandate his government received in the 2019 elections bears testimony to this. It is also true that all objective indicators point towards an economic slowdown, however, we do not yet have concrete evidence to suggest that Indians have started blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government for it.
According to India Today’s Mood of the Nation survey 2019, the popularity level of Narendra Modi remains extremely high. Decisions such as the Balakot strikes post the Pulwama attack and the abrogation of Article 370 have established him as a decisive Prime Minister.
Opinion polls have consistently shown that economic issues remain an important concern for Indian voters. Sooner or later, there will be widespread discontent if the economy continues to falter. In that case, no amount of manoeuvring will help the BJP because identity issues — such as nationalism or religion — will soon not be as important in the metrics that citizens use to judge the performance of their government.
There is an emerging consensus that the current slowdown is structural and there is a slump across the globe. But if the Modi government does not tackle this slump and make efforts to reduce the hardships of people, then public discontent will catch up. To maintain his trust among the citizens, Modi must make sure that the efforts of his government on economy are seen positively.
Economic issues don’t yet have a constituency in electoral matrix, and GDP is just a three-letter word
Political economy analyst and Author of Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution & Accidental India
The short answer to the question asked is, no. The long answer is shine and beauty lie in the eye of the beholder, which in this case is the voter. The slowdown in sectors, especially real estate and automobiles, has been visible for more than four quarters now. The GDP growth rate has been sliding since the last three quarters. Corporate profitability and government revenues have been under strain for over a year and agricultural distress, despite bumper crops, has left half the workforce earning only 14 per cent of the national income.
However, none of these issues affected Narendra Modi and the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In fact, they seem to have worked in favour of Modi’s decisive leadership pitch. It is important to understand that Modi and the BJP have won more seats than any other political party in three decades. Every major metro was swept by a BJP alliance. Just look at the exodus of people from the Congress and other parties to the BJP; the quip in Mumbai is that every subedar worth the vote has migrated. It doesn’t look like slower economic growth has stopped the emigration of politicos to the BJP and it doesn’t seem like it will dent outcomes in the three state assembly polls due this year.
Every prime minister who pushed reforms from P.V. Narasimha Rao to Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost elections. Chief ministers who induced structural changes lost polls. The fact is that economic issues don’t yet have a constituency in the electoral matrix. And GDP is just a three-letter word.
The moment PM Modi says there is a problem in economy, he will be admitting his failure
Contributing editor, ThePrint
Since Narendra Modi’s return to power, he has offered some platitudes on the economy. India will be a $5-trillion economy by 2024, he promises, and has said the government stands with wealth creators. Except for these platitudes, Modi has absolutely nothing else to say about the economy amid a crippling slowdown.
Modi is silent on the economy like he stays silent on lynchings. Like lynchings, he will speak on the economy when it’s too late. Some more meaningless platitudes.
Modi won’t acknowledge the economic slowdown. But the moment he does, the economic slowdown story will acquire a certain legitimacy that it does not right now. As of now, the economic meltdown sounds like a few rich people making noises, liberals and opposition trying to score points, and the dismay of a few unhappy people who’ve lost jobs here and there. The moment the Prime Minister of the country says there is a problem, he will be admitting his failure. That’s when the economic slowdown will start affecting his image.
Modi would be forced to acknowledge the slowdown only if the business community, the media and the opposition can make enough noise. As of now, all three together are unable to.
For the moment, Modi has succeeded in separating economic performance from his image. Modi is Modi, like gods and film stars, he’s just there for all of us to celebrate his birthday. He will soon get credit for sweeping election victories in three states and the BJP will turn around to ask: Slowdown? What slowdown?
By Revathi Krishnan, journalist at ThePrint