Modi after two years in power
On January 3, 2014, Deccan Herald reported an interesting story under the headline: “Modi will be a disaster for India: PM” In what was to be his last press conference as prime minister, Manmohan Singh said: “Without discussing the merits of Narendra Modi, I sincerely believe that it will be disastrous for the country to have Modi as the PM.” What did the old man mean by “without discussing the merits?” And why specifically did he think Modi would be a disaster? One wishes he had been less vague.
It has been two years since Modi has been prime minister and it is safe to say he has not been a disaster. About the clarity of his vision, the effectiveness of his governance and the changes produced by his legislations, we will only know about in time. But it would be correct to say that Modi is the most popular leader we have had in decades. Neither Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor Rajiv Gandhi had the sort of public support Modi has after two years.
The prime minister is of course aware of this. He said in Odisha a few days ago: “In our country, individual or celebrity or government reaches peak of popularity, but people start to turn away from them over a period of three, six or nine months. We have seen it happening. But for the first time, we are witnessing a situation where a government is showered with love and blessings even after two years in power.”
When he says the “government is showered with love” what he means is “I am,” because this is of course the Modi sarkar. But he is right to say he is very popular, and every survey shows this. I would say Modi is up there with Indira Gandhi as a pan-India leader who is undisputed within his party and has no rival outside it.
Polling agency InstaVaani has been tracking Modi’s popularity since his inauguration and the number of Indians who think he has done a good job has hovered around the 74% mark throughout. This is an astonishing number and US presidents would look at such ratings with envy.
Website rediff conducted an interesting survey to mark the second anniversary of the Modi sarkar. It asked 10 questions and the results were illuminating. The first question was awkwardly framed: “If elections were to happen today, would you still vote for the BJP?” I say awkward because it assumes everyone voted for the BJP whereas the party got about 32% of the vote. But anyway, of more than 40,000 votes, 85% went in favour of Modi.
Asked if ‘achche din’ had arrived, over 70% said yes. And 83% said Modi was a good PM. Even in areas where analysts have said Modi has failed so far, such as in his Pakistan policy or on job creation, the majority of those surveyed were satisfied.
It is true that both of these surveys referred to above were conducted through mobile phones and the internet. Meaning that many if not most of those polled were probably urban, middle class and anglicised. This has long been Modi’s base and we might dismiss some of the data as being coloured by the quality of the sample.
But it is also true that Modi is popular in rural India also. That rally in Odisha where he made those remarks on his popularity was in Balasore and it was absolutely packed. It is not easy for any other leader in India to summon a crowd of five lakh anywhere in India, as Modi can do. So it is logical to conclude that he is popular both with urban and rural Indians. The real question is: why?
If the economy is still growing at under 8%, if job creation is slow, if Pakistan policy is a confused mess and if no real change has happened in two years, why is Modi still popular?
My speculation is as follows. First, he is credible. Modi is taken at his word when he says he is trying hard to change India. The biggest reason for his credibility is that he puts everything he has into his work. He is visible as a leader, whether on social media or his foreign visits or during election campaigns. For example, though he is running the country, he still worked harder than Rahul Gandhi during the recent Assembly elections.
Second, he has staked his credibility on long term programmes, like Swachh Bharat and Make in India. People are willing to give him the time to make change happen. Third, he has kept the media buzzing with news of activities. Now whether these activities are actually productive could be debated but what is not in dispute is the fact that they are talked about. It is not the opposition that has been setting the agenda these last two years, it has been Modi.
Fourth, he has been very pragmatic in not killing off socialist type schemes, like NREGA, that he railed against when he was not in government. These have mildly disappointed some of his supporters who favour laissez faire economics, meaning those who want government to be totally capitalist. However, they have ensured that there has been no backlash against him from the poor, and little opportunity for the opposition to frame the debate on their terms.
The fifth and last thing is his likeability. He is an attractive, entertaining individual. He is rarely boring and he drips with charisma in a way that Manmohan Singh did not. Whether this will see him through the next three years and beyond 2019 remains to be seen. For now at least, Manmohan Singh’s prediction has been rejected comprehensively by the majority of Indians.