Modi is India's most popular leader: Poll

Mr Narendra Modi at an election rally this month. Nearly nine in 10 Indians have a favourable view of the Prime Minister, according to a survey.
Mr Narendra Modi at an election rally this month. Nearly nine in 10 Indians have a favourable view of the Prime Minister, according to a survey.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

He is more well-loved than Sonia, Rahul Gandhi despite failing to live up to election promises

Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the most popular leader in India, according to the US based Pew Research Center, in a survey that underscores the trust people have in him, even with the rumblings over a dip in economic growth.

The survey, conducted by the non-partisan think-tank of 2,464 respondents in India from Feb 21 to March 10 this year, said nearly nine in 10 had a favourable opinion of Mr Modi, who has held power for a little over three years.

His lowest ratings were for his handling of communal relations, or tensions between Muslims and Hindus and India's various castes. However, Pew said the issue was not at the forefront of many respondents' concerns.

It said Mr Modi "remains by far the most popular national figure in Indian politics tested in the survey", with his favourable ratings 31 percentage points higher than for Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and 30 points more than for her son, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who runs the party.

"The public's positive assessment of Modi is buoyed by growing contentment with the Indian economy: More than eight in 10 say economic conditions are good, up 19 percentage points since immediately before the 2014 election," said the report.

The survey found young Indians, aged between 18 and 29, showed "slightly greater intensity of support" for Mr Modi than those aged 50 and over.

The Indian Prime Minister came to power in 2014 on the back of popular support. He promised to create jobs, boost the economy and end corruption. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has gone on to do well at many state-level elections, including in the populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which it won early this year.

BEST BET

Although there are reservations on the ground and, in spite of demonetisation and GST, they feel their best bet is on him. There is no alternative around.

DR N. BHASKARA RAO, from the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, on why people favour Mr Narendra Modi.

Yet the survey comes at a time of growing rumblings against the Modi government due to its decision to demonetise high-value currency in the country and a dip in economic growth. While the move to take 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee notes out of circulation a year ago was said to target those with unaccounted money and was praised as an anti-corruption move, it disrupted the economy, especially hurting smaller businesses and leading to reports of many job losses.

Poor implementation of the goods and services tax also gave rise to difficulties among many small and medium-size businesses.

Criticism has come from inside Mr Modi's own BJP, from elder leaders like former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, as India's GDP grew 5.7 per cent in the April-June quarter, the slowest growth since the first quarter of 2014.

The positive ratings in spite of all this shows that people still have hope in Mr Modi, said analysts.

"Although there are reservations on the ground and, in spite of demonetisation and GST, they feel their best bet is on him. There is no alternative around," said Dr N. Bhaskara Rao of the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies.

  • SURVEY RESULTS

    >80%

    Say economic conditions are good, up 19 percentage points since immediately before the 2014 election.

    26%

    Expressed a favourable view of China this year - down 15 percentage points since 2015.

    70%

    At least that many approve of how Mr Modi has helped the poor and handled unemployment, terrorism and corruption. Approval in these four areas is up 10 points or more since 2016.

    49%

    Of Indians have a positive view of the US, while just 9 per cent have an unfavourable view. Still, this year's ratings for the US and its president are lower than in previous years.

    Nirmala Ganapathy

According to the survey, 85 per cent of respondents voiced trust in the national government.

Mr Modi's lowest ratings, at 50 per cent, were for his handling of communal relations and for a failure to curb pollution, which has blanketed the capital city of Delhi in a toxic cloud of smog.

The BJP coming to power has emboldened Hindu nationalists groups, including so-called cow vigilantes who have targeted Muslims.

"Women are particularly critical of how he has dealt with communal relations, as are people living in northern India. And rural Indians are less supportive than those in urban areas,'' said the survey, which also noted that neither communal issues nor pollution was a priority for Indians.

Still, analysts pointed out that Mr Modi had not yet been able to fulfil his domestic agenda.

Mr D.H. Pai Panandikar, president of RPG Foundation, a private think-tank, noted that Mr Modi has has not met the targets he had set for himself during the elections, falling short especially in the creation of jobs.

"With demonetisation, employment has actually gone down," he said. "And communal issues have been a negative factor.''

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2017, with the headline 'Modi is India's most popular leader: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe