How do you conduct a nationwide survey in a country like India? There are about a dozen languages, and the sheer diversity of culture, cuisine, attitudes and in-built prejudices make the task of filtering them statistically even more challenging. But when the responses come in, one cannot help but marvel at the innate wisdom and maturity of ordinary Indians. Five distinct messages delivered by ordinary Indians have been identified by the authors and analysed in terms of their importance and implications for India in the coming months and years.
1. Narendra Modi is still the undisputed number one.
For older Indians, Narendra Modi’s enduring popularity resembles Indira Gandhi’s. People either adored or despised her, just as they do Modi. Even in defeat, Indira towered over all other politicians. Perhaps the Lok Sabha elections will break his spell over the Indian electorate. However, responses to the Mood of the Nation survey show that, while this is a possibility, it is still a long way off.
Survey finds that 48.2% of respondents feel the handling of the economy by the Modi government was outstanding or good, while 28.8% rated it as poor or very poor. An awe-inspiring 65.5% of the respondents rated the performance of Narendra Modi as outstanding and good. More importantly, 53.4% think that Modi is best suited to be the next prime minister.
2. Indians believe in forgiveness and moving on.
No Indian will ever forget the horrors unleashed in the country during the destructive second wave of the Covid pandemic, which spanned the summer of 2021. Images of round-the-clock funeral pyres, patients gasping for oxygen inside ambulances and hospitals, and bodies floating in the Ganga river will almost certainly be etched in memory. According to a CVoter survey and research conducted across the entire country through 2021 and published as a paper in the prestigious journal ‘Science,’ the actual Covid deaths were approximately 8 to 9 times higher than the official estimates.
The handling of the Covid pandemic is rated as the biggest success of the Modi regime with 25.4% opting for it over Article 370 and corruption-free governance. Indians have shown a willingness to forgive and move on if they like a leader. Voters in Tamil Nadu forgave J Jayalalitha after giving her massive mandate in 1991 as she acquired notoriety for corruption and flaunting of wealth. Within a year, Indians seemed to have forgiven her and they brought her back to power.
3. Democracy, not free speech, and communal harmony are in jeopardy.
The CVoter survey reveals the average Indian’s ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. When citizens believe they have and enjoy free speech and, for the most part, believe there is communal harmony, democracy is in jeopardy. When free speech, communal harmony and minority rights are threatened, democracy is jeopardised. ‘Indians are only like that,’ as beautifully described by Javed Akhtar’s lyrics in the film ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’.
Ordinary Indians share the worries eloquently put by Pundits that democracy is in danger. But they seem to have arrived at this conclusion without agreeing to the first two conclusions. Take a look at what ordinary Indians think about ‘communal harmony’ that is directly linked to minority rights. If one goes by some TV debates, Hindus and Muslims seem to be at war. And for them, there couldn’t have been a worse time for democracy in India.
4. It’s the economy, stupid
Thirty years ago, a little known governor of an obscure state called Arkansas in the United States caused a massive electoral uproar by defeating his Presidential rival candidate. The reason, universally acknowledged by pundits and common citizens with common sense, was economics. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ‘Achilles Heel’ of the Narendra Modi regime should have been the poor performance of the economy.
The mood of the Nation survey shows that just 5.7% of the respondents singled out welfare schemes as the biggest success of the Modi regime. A repeat in 2024 on the same issue would be difficult. ‘Anti-incumbency’ has been low-hanging fruit for a while, ready to be plucked but with no leader or party smart enough to do the same.
5. Who fills the political vacuum?
The dominance of the BJP as a political force in national politics begins to look like a tired joke. The BJP dominates and rules Uttar Pradesh, yes. But it also rules Maharashtra after helping break former ally Shiv Sena. In Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar has executed yet another characteristic somersault and dumped the BJP to join hands with the Yadav clan that runs the RJD.
In West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee has humiliated the BJP in elections and continues to rub salt into its wounds. In Tamil Nadu, DMK chief minister MK Stalin treats the BJP as disdainfully as ‘nationalists’ treat Pakistan. In Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP runs governments that look vulnerable. This state of affairs is akin to the almost two decades when Indira Gandhi and the Congress were in the pole position in national politics. When asked who is best suited to lead the opposition alliance against Modi and the BJP, 27.2% opted for AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal while 19.6% preferred Mamata Banerjee.
AAP has the face, but doesn’t have the infrastructure. Congress has the infrastructure but its leadership face lags in the public imagination. If Modi and the BJP were to lose in 2024, there could be two improbable scenarios – one is a repetition of 1977 when voters were so angry with Indira Gandhi that they were determined to punish her. The other scenario is 2004 when a popular and charismatic Vajpayee (like Modi now) lost unexpectedly to Sonia Gandhi and her UPA allies.
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