PM MODI STRUGGLING WITH ISSUES BUT REMAINS POPULAR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have been pillared by the Opposition and the media for many faults, key among them being promoting its brand of aggressive Hindutva through instruments like beef ban, ghar wapsi (homecoming for Hindus), anti-minority propaganda and lately using nationalism as a policy tool. The bigger threat, its opponents say, is to destroy the secular body politic of India. The underlying theme is that with such archaic policies, Modi and his party are playing into the hands of the RSS, and that this is not to the liking of the public at large. The BJP government is thus digging its own grave and is losing the massive popularity of its leaders, specifically of Modi.

The findings of a recent survey conducted by ET-TNS however, convey just the opposite. According to it the Prime Minister still holds sway over members of his core constituency – the urban salaried, especially those living in India’s seven biggest cities. The government’s overall approval ratings are still high almost two years after it came to power. This is despite the government getting caught up in various controversies and the failure to make progress on key elements of its reforms agenda.

Modi government has an overall rating of 80% on economic performance, while 62% say that it has delivered on job creation and 58% expect the future to be better. In other words they still believe in “good times are coming”.

Perhaps the finding that reveals the most about those surveyed is their response to questions about nationalism and sedition as exemplified by the protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). 46% believe that the controversy is the fault of the Congress and 52% believe that the government has handled the controversy well.

It is however, important to note that the findings do not reflect sentiments across the country or among different population segments. It merely represents Modi’s popularity among the segments that is seen as his supporters.

The survey was carried out in Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, covering a sample size of about 2,000 between the ages of 24 – 50 with an annual family income of between Rs 3, 00, 000 and 20,00,000. About a fifth of those surveyed were women.

On a scale of 1 – 10, Modi’s popularity rating is 7.68, compared to Rahul Gandhi’s 3.61. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has a rating of 5.86. As much as 41% gave PM a rating of 9 or 10.

Dealing with drought, water scarcity and farmer issues

The survey results obviously have limitations with the Prime Minister having to deal with a myriad of problems. Among the more serious issues that his government is facing is that of drought and the resultant water and agrarian crisis. At a time when as many as nine states in the country are facing an acute water crisis, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Union government not to “turn a blind eye” towards drought-hit states. In particular, the court, hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Swaraj Abhiyan (an NGO), highlighted the delay in MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) payments. “Relief has to be given immediately and not after one year. Temperature is soaring at 45 degree Celsius, there is no drinking water, nothing is there,” said the court. The latest rap for the Centre comes close on the heels of a similar snub in February when the apex court expressed its strong disappointment over the implementation of the National Food Security Act across several states.

The country’s top court also slammed the BJP governments in Gujarat and Haryana for showing lack of seriousness in dealing with drought like conditions in their states.

The country has been suffering an extended bout of El Niño, which adversely affects rains and overall productivity. According to the Economic Survey, “average agricultural growth in El Niño years since between 1981-82 and 2015-16 has been minus 2.1 per cent compared with a period average of 3 per cent”.

Farmers need immediate help both in terms of food and work availability. And it is here that the Centre and several drought-affected states have been lagging behind. According to one estimate, wage payments of close to Rs 10,588 crore are pending under the MGNREGA — the main programme to counter extreme rural distress. Worse still, the pendency is most severe in states most affected by drought.