Modi-Shah regime not same as Manmohan's UPA-II

Topics Narendra Modi | Amit Shah | BJP

Is NDA-II heading the same way as UPA-II? The latest Mood of the Na­tion (MOTN) survey findings published by India Today invite us to think of this te­mp­ting, but false, equivalence. As a na­tion-wide popular movement co­nfronts the Narendra Modi-led BJP government floundering in its second term, it is natural to think of the disastrous term of the UPA-II under Manmohan Singh, especially after the anti-corruption movement. It is a misleading comparison though.

India Today’s six-monthly ‘Mood of the Nation’ poll is the oldest data series of its kind in India. (The other, the one I prefer, CSDS-Lokniti on State of the Nation Survey has been interrupted again.) Although its method and quality have va­ried over the years, I still trust India Today. This latest round was carried out during the last 10 days of 2019. As always, the pollsters spoke to a small, but representative sample of about 12,000-plus voters across 19 states. Remember, a less-than-perfect survey is a superior source of information than drawing room gossip.

Decline in BJP popularity?

There are many indicators in MOTN survey to support the idea of a decline in the BJP’s popularity. The headline forecast shows a drop of 50 seats compared to the NDA’s tally in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It would look worse if we imagine a grand alliance of the Opposition, in­cluding the Shiv Sena. The poll finds a loss of four percentage points in the NDA vote share, from 45 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections to 41 per cent now. Add this to the outcomes of Assembly elections following the Lok Sabha polls and you have a trend line of a consistent decline in the BJP’s fortunes.

I would, however, not rush into such a conclusion. For one thing, I never take seat forecasts very seriously, especially when the Lok Sabha poll is some years away. Voters don’t quite know their mind. And the pollsters don’t know what the nature of alliance arithmetic would eventually look like. Besides, one should not read too much into a small drop after an extraordinary peak as in 2019. In any case, the poll shows that the BJP’s loss is not the gain of its principal national opponent, the Congress. In this respect, ThePrint’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta’s reading is bang on.

Despite a minor drop, Prime Minister Modi’s approval rating continues to be high at 68 per cent. He continues to be way ahead of his competitors (53 per cent prefer him over 13 per cent for Rahul Gandhi) in the PM race. He can afford to shed a few points as the Opposition has no half-credible face to take him on. The supreme leader’s rating is more important to assess the strength of an authoritarian regime than any projected vote share for his party.

Split on economy

The poll’s indications on India’s economy are more significant, though not as robust as I had expected. I wish the poll had asked more pointed questions on the economy.

At 32 per cent, unemployment is the top-most anxiety of people. It has been so since the MOTN survey held in August 2016. If anything, the reality of joblessness finds a mild expression in the mirror of this poll.

Farm crisis may have slipped from the headlines, but continues to feature among top concerns. While Modi did win farmers’ votes, he has not been able to wa­sh away the impression that the farmers’ condition has deteriorated under his regime. At the same time, food inflation is beginning to hurt the consumer, though this anxiety is yet to peak.

The bad-old UPA is now seen in a fairer light for its handling of the economy. All in all, the population is almost equally divided into three: 29 per cent believers who see no reasons to worry, 28 per cent sceptics who fear that the economy is stagnating or regressing and 32 per cent agnostics who say it is growing, but at a slower pace. It’s bad news for the Modi and Amit Shah regime, but not as bad as the reality of the economy warrants. The public opinion has still not crossed the tipping point.

Are majoritarian policies working?

To my mind, the most significant findings of this round of MOTN survey are about the majoritarian policies followed by the Modi government since the Lok Sabha elections.

With Amit Shah as its mascot, the NDA-II has pursued an aggressive agenda of polarisation through Kashmir, Ci­tizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). Although these policies are disastrous for our long-term national interest and India’s international standing, I feared that this would bring short-term political dividends to the BJP.

The survey shows the BJP may have overplayed. The move to scrap Article 370 gets popular approval, but not as high as the BJP may have hoped for. 

Similarly, those who support the CAA outnumbered those who are opposed (41 per cent to 26 per cent) to it. The same is true of the NRC (49 per cent to 26 per cent). 

A majority of the people (52 per cent) agree minorities are feeling insecure. More significantly, 53 per cent agree the minorities are justified in feeling so. The most damning news for the regime is that more people feel that CAA-NRC is a ploy to divert peoples’ attention than otherwise (43 per cent to 32 per cent). Remember, this survey was completed before the JNU episode that may have eroded the regime’s legitimacy even further. Clearly, at least some Modi supporters have begun to think that he is committing excesses. This sentiment brings authoritarian regimes down.

Not the beginning of the end

But this is not the beginning of the decline of Modi. For one thing, the NDA victory in 2019 was much higher than the UPA in 2009. Be­sides, the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR moveme­nt is not the darling of the media that the Anna Hazare movement was. Above all, the character of the Modi regime is radically different from that of the Singh government. Whatever happens, it will never quietly preside over its own decimation as UPA-II.

If the Singh government was characterised by policy paralysis, this one is afflicted by hyper-activism, sans a road­map. We cannot compare this regime with the previous because it is led by not one but two consummate political players unrestrained by norms, conventions or compunction. Their exit route cannot be like the UPA’s tame surrender in 2014.

We are dealing with political animals who would turn a setback into an opportunity and invent crises. Indira Gandhi’s shock defeat in 1977 is the closest parallel that we can think of. Perhaps, we need to look beyond India, to our neighbours who have fought against authoritarian regimes, to visualise an exit route for the Modi-Shah regime.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal

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