In Modi We Trust...
India Today|January 31, 2022
The biannual survey reveals that the prime minister is still regarded as the best bet for the job, but serious concerns remain
Raj Chengappa

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things,” Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in his treatise The Prince. Midway through his second term as prime minister, Narendra Modi must make a decisive shift in priorities to lift the nation out of the economic morass it has sunk into, and set it firmly on the path to prosperity. He must also use the remaining years of his term to become the great unifier of the country—to achieve the kind of new order that Machiavelli was referring too.

These are the two key takeaways emerging from the January 2022 edition of the India Today-CVoter biannual Mood of the Nation (MOTN) poll, with respondents reiterating their belief that Narendra Modi remains the best bet for the job. That faith stems from the way the prime minister has so far handled the triad of crises before the nation—the unprecedented and prolonged Covid pandemic, an economy in a shambles and a dangerous border confrontation with China.

Modi’s personal popularity sees an uptick this MOTN, with 62.8 per cent of respondents rating his performance as good to outstanding, compared to 54 per cent in August 2021. This is still some distance from the phenomenal 78 per cent approval that the prime minister garnered in August 2020, at the peak of the first wave of Covid. However, it does not diminish their trust in Modi’s ability to deliver.

The widening chasm between his popularity and that of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, his closest contender from the Opposition, only reinforces the notion. Asked who is best suited to be the next prime minister, 52.5 per cent respondents voted for Modi and only 6.8 per cent for Rahul—a yawning gap of 46 per cent. In August 2021, that gap had narrowed to 14 per cent, with Modi polling 24 per cent and Rahul 10 per cent. The ratings for the NDA government’s performance too have improved, with 58.7 per cent saying they were satisfied or very satisfied compared to 53 per cent in August 2021.

What explains this booster dose of confidence for Modi and his government? One clear reason seems to be the massive Covid vaccination drive that crossed over 1.64 billion doses on January 18, with more than 70 per cent of India’s 940 million adult population now fully vaccinated. That has fostered a sense of security in the face of the pandemic in addition to saving lives and livelihoods.

It is this endorsement that the MOTN reflects when it lists the NDA government’s handling of the Covid pandemic as its single biggest achievement. This is followed by the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya (15.7 per cent) and the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir (12 per cent). This is in sharp contrast to the August 2021 MOTN edition where the government’s handling of Covid was billed as one of its biggest failures at a time the second wave was raging.

Drawing lessons from that setback, Modi seems to have moved proactively on the threat posed by Omicron, the recent Covid variant driving the third wave. The prime minister announced booster doses for vulnerable adults above 60 years and introduced vaccinations for the 15 to 18-year age group. Modi also convened a video conference of all chief ministers, advising them to gear up for the challenge and ramp up testing facilities, ensure adequate beds with oxygen supply and critical care equipment.

However, the support that Modi and the NDA government have received this MOTN comes with caveats. Rising prices and unemployment have been listed as the government’s two biggest failures. Add demonetisation to the list, and as many as 44 per cent point to economic issues as this government’s biggest let-downs. However, the government may find some comfort in the fact that a majority—51.9 per cent—still believes it has handled the economy well.

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