THE FINDINGS OF the latest Pew Research survey of India—carried out in February to March this year—should surprise no one. The survey affirms that Narendra Modi remains the most popular political leader, by a long margin, in India.
The numbers tell their own story. Three years after he became Prime Minister, 88 per cent of those surveyed said they had a favourable view of Modi, up by seven percentage points over 2016. That was the year when his rating took a small dip over 2015, by six percentage points. Overall, his rating has remained in the high eighties over this period. Significantly, the number is up 10 percentage points from 2013, on the eve of the 2014 General Election.
What can be said safely from this is that after three years of governing India—a usual turning point downwards for any ruling dispensation—Modi remains strong.
A breakdown of these numbers according to different geographic regions reveals something else. The Prime Minister enjoys maximum popularity in the South where a whopping 95 per cent of those surveyed had a positive view of the man. This was followed, respectively, by the West, East and North. Even the latter, the least favourable region for him, the rating was 84 per cent in favour.
Even in terms of personalities, Modi has a virtually unassailable lead at the moment. He enjoys a 30 percentage point lead over Rahul Gandhi. With Arvind Kejriwal, this distance is brutal: a 49 per cent point lead.
Usually there is no one-to-one correlation between such numbers and particular traits of the leader in question. But a conjecture can be hazarded based on the performance of different governments at the same point of their tenure. The difference is obvious. By early 2010, the Congress-led UPA-2 Government had already begun losing its way in terms of governance. The first scandals, for example that involving the Commonwealth Games, were already in public view. In contrast, the Modi Government is yet to witness any such turbulence. That makes a very big difference.
Indian politics, based on patronage of various kinds, is ideologically portrayed in Left to Right terms by the country’s intellectuals. The reality is that increasingly Indians evaluate their leaders and governments in terms of governance, good or bad, an idea that is at odds with conventional perspectives of politics.