India is going through a crisis of sorts: the flawed management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ever-rising inflation, and the unprecedented levels of subjugation of the minorities. At the helm is the Bharatiya Janta Party’s second-term Prime Minister Narendra Modi who seems to have lost control of the situation. A population of 1.39 billion people are literally suffocating while the arrogant, staunchly nationalist, and – now proven – incompetent chief executive of the world’s second-largest population is busy maintaining his public image. But the public image only gets one so far.
When Modi launched his bid for the New Delhi hot seat, his slogan was to revitalize India’s economy on the back of his 13-year stint as the Gujarat Chief Minister. The BJP knew that it was taking a risk on the hardline right-wing Modi, but the party banked on his reputation as a ‘no-nonsense administrator’ was part of his appeal. However, Modi’s inclination to spend time and energy on keeping up his public image – as the Indian public reels from the devastating second wave of the Coronavirus Pandemic – has met with scathing reviews by his critics. Meanwhile, those who publicly question the government’s handling of the crisis continue to face threats, intimidation, and arrests.
The illegal annexation of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir has badly hit Modi’s stock and it looks like the Modi wave is fading away. It is quite apparent that his popularity is crashing like a house of cards. It is unlikely that the foreign applause will return to its former clamour. The situation at home is even more ominous as the Hindutva ideology hits a snag among the educated urban middle and upper class who expect tangible progress, not just optics. Milan Vaishnav, who is a senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says, “If competence was his calling card, many people are calling that into question. It’s not just that the government seems to be fumbling or absent, it’s that they actively contributed to exacerbating the situation.” Modi’s façade is cracking.
Recently, the weekly Indian English-language news magazine India Today conducted the latest ‘Mood of the Nation’ and it shows how Modi’s popularity has taken a drastic tumble between January and August. Only 24 per cent of the Indians believe that Modi is the best-suited candidate to become the country’s next Prime Minister, down from 66 percent approval until last year. The stark downturn in approval rating is an indicator of the public’s discontent over the BJP’s governance.
The ill-thought management of the second wave of the deadly pandemic came out to be the most significant problem as 49 percent of those surveyed disproved Modi’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The surge in the disapproval – from 18 percent last August – can be attributed to the acute shortage of medical resources and inadequate containment measures during the second wave. Moreover, the more glaring statistic was the 71 percent of those surveyed believe that COVID-19 killed more people in India than the data submitted by the government.
Then there are the burning issues like inflation, unemployment, rising fuel prices, economic slowdown, corruption, and farm distress that the MOTN survey concluded to be the most concerning crises. 29 percent of the people surveyed named Inflation as ‘the biggest failure of the NDA government’. NDA is National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. Only 47 percent of respondents rated the Centre’s handling of the economy as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ – the lowest such percentage since 2016 while 39 percent think that the economic policies under the Modi-led government have benefitted only big businesses. A massive 60 percent blame the government for not doing enough to control inflation.
The image of rising India under Modi has proven to be no more than a disguise. The people of India are not really satisfied with the NDA in the centre as well as its governments in the 17 Indian states. Modi’s image as the secular leader in the world’s largest democracy has been revealed. The king certainly does not have any clothes.