By S.Venkat Narayan/The Island
New Delhi, August 20: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now rated as the best leader India has had since Independence in 1947, ahead of even Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, according to India Today newsweekly’s ‘Mood Of The Nation’ (MOTN) opinion poll.
The poll, held across India in July and published in the magazine’s latest issue, shows that, in comparison with Indira Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Jawaharlal Nehru, Modi’s rating has shot up to 33% now from 20% in August 2015.
The figures for the other three past prime ministers are: Indira Gandhi 17% now (from 21% three years ago), Vajpayee: 9% (19%), and Nehru 8% (7%).
In terms of Modi’s government, if elections were to be held today, his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is likely to win 349 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, just a slight drop from the 360 projected in the previous MOTN conducted in January 2017. The opposition Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is a distant second, with just 75 seats, while the other opposition parties get a paltry 119.
Significantly, for the second consecutive MOTN survey, the BJP can garner a majority on its own: the current MOTN projects a win of 298 seats. The fact that Modi and the BJP have been able to hold their own despite the downturn in economic growth caused by demonetization indicates that, if the trend continues, the ruling party is well-positioned to return to power in 2019.
The latest MOTN poll was conducted before Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar dumped the Mahagathbandhan, or the Grand Coalition, and returned to the NDA. If Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JD-U) has a poll alliance with the NDA, its tally would cross 400 seats in the current scenario.
The survey reveals that Modi remains India’s tallest leader across the political spectrum. He continues to enjoy popular support despite his controversial decision to demonetize high-value currency notes last November. It put the nation’s financial system in disarray, caused enormous inconvenience to the common people and its gains are yet to be quantified.
In his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort here, Modi said that unaccounted wealth worth three trillion rupees came back into the banking system because of demonetization. But so far, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has not brought out a detailed cost-benefit analysis. Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that demonetization may have resulted in a major loss of jobs (1.5 million, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and a drop in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (0.5 per cent is the consensus).
Yet, the MOTN poll shows, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed rate the demonetization drive, the crackdown on black money and a corruption-free government as the single biggest achievement of the Modi government so far.
By focusing on ridding the nation of corruption, Modi has correctly gauged the true mood of the nation, the reason why people gave him a majority in the 2014 general election. The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government ran out of steam in its second term because of the devastating perception that it had become venal and effete.
The string of scandals that rocked Dr Singh’s second term in office—-from the Commonwealth Games heist to the great coal scam to the undervalued sale of 2G telecom spectrum—-saw the public demand action against corruption. What people yearned for was not just someone who could govern the nation but a leader who could clean up the crooked and immoral system of governance. Modi rode to victory on such a promise.
In the three years that he has been in power, Modi has taken numerous measures to strike at the roots of corruption and black money. Most importantly, he has been able to effectively communicate to the electorate why he was doing it. So, at the peak of the demonetization drive, when people joined the serpentine queues in front of banks to withdraw their own money, he expressed his anguish, but reminded them of why they were doing it.
He appears to have convinced the people that demonetization was a great leveler and those with ill-gotten gains were finally getting their comeuppance. That his government was acting on the people’s demand for a clean government and tough action against those who had stashed away cash illegally.
Even the other major reform of his government, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), was presented as not only something that would benefit the consumer by reducing prices but also help in reducing tax evasion and bribes. In all these, Modi was constantly focusing on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ or ‘how’ to convince people of his narrative.
The magazine says Modi has broken the rules of the game constantly, as exemplified by the surgical strikes and demonetization. In the last three years, he has constantly outdone himself and his rivals. He is willing to take accountability for all his actions.
In cabinet meetings, he listens to his colleagues and is usually the last to speak. When he does interject, it is with clarity, passion and authority, always outlining a larger vision. That is perhaps why the MOTN survey shows that 63% rate his performance as PM as good to outstanding and only 12 per cent put him in the poor to very poor category.
Indians perceive Modi as a strong and decisive leader willing to pursue a vision of modern India that he wants people to be inspired by. He has set a personal example by ensuring that merit prevails when it comes to appointment of central government bureaucrats. He is a hands-on administrator and personally monitors all the programmes he has launched, getting his ministers and officials to make Power Point presentations of the progress they have made.
His cabinet colleagues say the prime minister has a long memory, is an avid listener, and has an eye for detail. “He tracks ideas from the concept stage to the narrative and then their implementation,” the weekly quotes one of them as saying.
Modi has harnessed technology to enhance governance and to simplify and speed up government procedures. To convey his message, he has even coined catchy slogans and sayings. In Parliament, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the 1942 Quit India Movement, Modi suggested that the famous slogan Karenge ya marenge (Do or Die) should be modified to Karenge aur kar ke rahenge (Will do, come what may).
Never tiring of pushing the envelope, the Prime Minister has already articulated a vision for a ‘New India’ to be achieved by 2022—-when India completes 75 years of Independence. In his I-Day speech, he said: “I want Team India to run for a New India by 2022. By then the poor should have concrete houses, the farmers should have doubled their income, youth and women should have ample opportunities to thrive. It should be a clean India. An India free of casteism, communalism, corruption and nepotism.”
In doing so, Modi has smartly sent a message to the voters that he is looking beyond 2019, when his re-election comes up. Like Martin Luther King Jr, he has outlined a vision, which gives people the reason ‘why’ they should vote him back to power.
(The featured image at the top is that of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi)