MOTN survey: Modi on top but challenges persist as BJP CMs score low

With less than a month remaining for the crucial elections to five state Assemblies, PM Narendra Modi remains the most popular leader in the country. This is despite the misery and scars of two waves of a pandemic, an economy in a shambles, a dangerous border confrontation with China, and the one-year-four-month protest by India’s largest demographic entity — farmers.

The rating from the 2022 edition of the India Today-CVoter biannual Mood of the Nation (MOTN) poll is news the BJP can use.

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With 58% of respondents in the MOTN survey being very satisfied/satisfied with the performance of the Modi government and close to 63% rating his personal performance as outstanding/good, the BJP can enjoy the feeling of a warm glow in Delhi’s prevailing winter chill, especially because in August 2021, the PM had received a ‘good’ performance rating from only 54%.

However, the current 63% mark is still some distance from the phenomenal 78% approval that the prime minister had garnered in August 2020, at the peak of the first wave of Covid.

There is no one close to Modi. His closest national rival in rating for the ‘Best Suited To Be The Next Prime Minister of India’ contest is Congress ex-President Rahul Gandhi, who is 46% behind him.

In August 2021, that gap had narrowed to 14%, with Modi polling 24% and Rahul 10%.

Two years after the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in India 3.82 crore cases have been recorded and 4.9 lakh have died as per official records. Still, 22.2% of respondents feel good handling of the pandemic has been the ‘Biggest Achievement of the NDA Government’. This is in sharp contrast to the August 2021 MOTN edition where the government’s handling of Covid was billed as one of its biggest failures at a time the second wave was raging.

The improved ratings for the NDA government — from only 53% in August 2021 saying they were satisfied with the performance — can be attributed to the huge Covid vaccination drive that crossed over 1.64 billion doses on January 18, with more than 70% of India’s 940 million adult population now fully vaccinated.

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Experts believe that the vaccination drive, the largest in the world has led to the multiplication in the sense of security. Drawing lessons from the setback of the second wave of Covid-19, PM Modi’s proactive decisions to keep the curve flattened in the wake of the Omicron variant that is driving the third wave, the announcement of booster doses for vulnerable adults above 60, and the introduction of vaccinations for the 15-18 age group seem to be working well for the government.

But the consummate politician in Narendra Modi would be reading the fine print of the MOTN survey. There are crucial politico-economic signals embedded in the MOTN survey, which are throwing up red lights on India’s map as Modi plots the roadmap for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

THE FLASHING POLITICAL RED LIGHTS

Modi has been the PM and the final arbiter of all decisions taken by the BJP since 2014. The chief ministers of 12 BJP-ruled states reached the top job with his blessings. CMs of five states ruled by BJP allies operate with the support of the PM.

To showcase the administrative benefits of the same party at the Centre and the states, the PM has been using the “double engine ki sarkaar” (twin-engine governance) template regularly.

But for longevity in power, the BJP needs not just the “double engine ki sarkaar” but also “double engine ki leadership” ( twin-engine leadership) with the chief ministers firing on all cylinders.

This is where the BJP must take note of the MOTN data.

In the five poll-bound states, the PM’s popularity rating is as follows:

Uttar Pradesh – 75%

Goa – 67%

Manipur – 73%

Uttarakhand – 59%

Punjab – 37%

It’s evident that in Punjab, where the BJP is not in power, the rating of the PM is way below the average.

Respondents of every state were asked to evaluate the performance of their respective CMs. The top gun list of CMs includes only one from the BJP.

Nearly 71% of respondents of the total of 2,743 from Odisha said they were satisfied with Naveen Patnaik, while 69.9% of the 4,982 respondents from West Bengal expressed satisfaction at Mamata Banerjee’s performance. Similarly, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin garnered 67.5% approval ratings, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray 61.8%, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan 61.1%, Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal 57.9%, Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma 56.6%, and Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel 51.4%.

The MOTN survey, however, shows that in only one of the states ruled by the BJP or its ally, the chief minister’s rating touched or crossed the 50% mark.

In five states- — Assam, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, UP, and MP — the CMs have a rating above 40% for satisfaction with performance.

Three BJP/NDA chief ministers — in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Bihar — have a rating between 35%-40% and in four states — Haryana, Karnataka, Puducherry, and Goa — the ratings of BJP/NDA CMs is between 27%-35%. In Goa, BJP CM Pramod Sawant has a low satisfaction rating of 27.2%.

Importantly for the BJP, 48.7% of respondents in UP said they were satisfied with CM Yogi Adityanath, while the PM’s popularity had the backing of 75% of respondents.

In Goa, 67% said the PM performed well but only 27.2% said the same about CM Pramod Sawant. In Manipur, 73% said PM Modi performed well but only 39.3% said the same about Chief Minister N Biren Singh. In Uttarakhand, the PM secured 59% of the approval ratings while CM Pushkar Dhami managed 41%.

If the voters in the upcoming Assembly polls vote more on local issues and leadership, while they may consider the PM as a better bet for Lok Sabha, the BJP needs to campaign hard to return to power in four of the five states it rules right now.

TROUBLE BREWING FOR BJP

Just five months away from Modi completing eight years as prime minister, the economy is in poor shape and there are signs of public disappointment rising on issues like shrinking income, price rise, and unemployment.

While 58% of respondents said they were satisfied with the performance of the Modi government, almost 26% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

The BJP also needs to watch out for the fact that the MOTN survey indicates that issues that catapulted the popularity of the BJP in the past, like the Ram Temple topic and defanging of Article 370 in Kashmir, are no more top achievements of the NDA government, according to the respondents. Only 15.7% now feel that the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya is a top achievement and only 12% feel that the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir is a big deal.

The rebound in support that Modi and the NDA government have received in the latest MOTN comes with caveats. Rising prices and unemployment have been listed as the government’s two biggest failures, with as many as 44% of respondents pointing to economic issues as this government’s biggest let-downs.

Another indicator the BJP needs to worry about is that as many as 64% believe that their economic status has either remained the same or worsened since Modi took charge in 2014 and 51% don’t expect the situation to get better in the next six months.

Nearly 64% indicated that their income had declined because of Covid-19, nearly 45% described the shortage of jobs as an extremely serious problem.

These should be red flags for the Modi government as its political strategy of polarisation, hyper-nationalism, and individual welfare may not be sufficient to ensure a Modi Govt 3.0 in 2024.

The rise in India’s benchmark inflation rate, measured by the CPI (consumer price index) to 5.59% in December 2021, the highest in five months, is one key red flag. This was reflected in the MOTN survey with a whopping 67.3% of respondents saying that their current daily expenses had become difficult to manage compared to last year.

Next was the country’s unemployment rate climbing to a four-month high in December, at 7.91%, up from 7% and 7.75% in November and October, as per data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

As many as 45% of respondents said the unemployment situation in the country was ‘very serious’, though this was down from 59% in August.

‘SUIT BOOT KI SARKAAR’ PERCEPTION

While demonetisation in 2016 and then the lockdowns of 2020 made the MSME sector struggle, the Modi government and the BJP should be worried about 47.7% of respondents saying that big businesses were the biggest beneficiaries of the NDA government’s economic policies, with only 7.6% thinking that small businesses were helped the most.

As many as 45% of respondents said the unemployment situation in the country was ‘very serious’, though this was down from 59% in August.

Even on the issue of reforms like disinvestment, Modi’s public support is not encouraging.

The sale of Air India, for example, has split public opinion — 43% of those polled said they did not support privatisation, while 41.4% said they did.

Equally strong views have emerged in the area of cryptocurrencies, where the PM has highlighted the need for a concerted global regulatory effort. While 38.1% of respondents said they wanted the Centre to ban cryptocurrencies, 34.3% were unaware of the issue or did not have a strong view.

Yashwant Deshmukh of CVoter said that the BJP needs to keep an eye on issues like price rise, shrinking incomes and unemployment.” These issues are being talked about by the public. Currently, the anger over these hasn’t reached a saturation point. If it does, there will be an impact on the popular vote.”

SLOW DECLINE IN NATIONAL NUMBERS

Compared to May 2019 — the MOTN survey for the scenario of a snap Lok Sabha poll projected no immediate danger to the stability of the government, but it indicated that the NDA would be down to 296 seats from the actual 352 it won in May 2019 — a loss of 56 seats. For the second consecutive MOTN survey, the ruling BJP shows a drop of over 30 seats, with its tally down to 271 seats — one short of a majority — compared to the 303 seats it had won in the 2019 election.

The survey showed a minor gain for the Congress, with the party adding only 10 seats to its tally of 52 in 2019.

The current MOTN survey projected that the BJP could win a healthy share of seats in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan as it did in 2019.

The survey, however, shows that the BJP is failing to gain new territories and its major push for seats in the east and the south have not borne much fruit. Regional players remain the bigger challenge across the country for the saffron party compared to the national player — the Congress.

The party suffered a grievous defeat in the West Bengal elections last year. In Odisha, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik remains invincible. The BJP’s position in Karnataka remains fragile while in Telangana, the BJP is unlikely to unseat the K Chandrashekar Rao government despite making big strides.

The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi coalition in Maharashtra is the biggest setback for the BJP with the party, on current projections, likely to lose 16-odd seats compared to 2019 of the MVA contests as a united entity.

However, while Modi continues to be the BJP’s trump card for a return to power in 2024, the MOTN survey results showed that Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi — in that order — are seen as best suited to lead an Opposition alliance. However, their popularity ratings are way below Modi’s.

Raj Chengappa, Editorial Director of India Today said, “That’s because the Opposition has so far been unable to build a convincing narrative against the Modi government’s performance or give the electorate a cohesive, alternative vision of governance.”

WHAT IS MOTN?

Mood of the Nation is a bi-annual nationwide survey conducted by the India Today Group. The findings of the Mood of the Nation survey are usually released every January and August. The Mood of the Nation survey is the most accurate reflection of public opinion on issues that matter the most. For more than a decade, this survey has been chronicling changing national narratives on politics, economics, society, sports, cinema, and foreign affairs.

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