On 16 November (Thursday), a large section of the Indian media went ballistic in carrying stories based on a so-called survey by the US-based Pew Research, which said that 9 out of 10 Indians had favourable opinion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Seldom does one see a democratically elected leader enjoying 90% approval rating anywhere in the world unless he or she has followed the path of what General Pervez Musharraf did in Pakistan in 1999 or what General Al-Sisi orchestrated in Egypt in 2013. In both cases, military dictators contested elections after overthrowing their democratically elected governments with the help of military and subsequently declared themselves winners by more than 90% vote share.
Soon after overthrowing Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif government, Musharraf opted for a controversial referendum in 2002. Astonishingly, more than 97% Pakistanis ‘extended’ their support to him. Atleast that’s what Musharraf claimed. Likewise, Al-Sisi too ‘won’ 96.1% vote share in 2014 when he ran for Egypt’s presidency post jailing of his former boss Mohammad Morsi through a coup.
Pew Research has sensationally placed Modi into the same league. But should you care about it at all the same way a section of the Indian media – TV channels and newspapers alike- did on Thursday morning? The answer is PLEASE NO. That’s because, as rightly termed by the Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien, the exercise is nothing more than a ‘con job.’
Just because Prime Minister Modi has tweeted the ‘survey’ as a badge of honour, it doesn’t mean the fake publicity exercise automatically acquires credence.
The imaginary survey by Pew reportedly spoke to just 2,464 respondents in India between 21 February and 10 March this year. At least that’s what the agency claimed when it went berserk on Twitter on Wednesday evening (India time) and posted more than two dozens of tweets highlighting several aspects to illustrate just how popular Modi was ahead of the Gujarat assembly polls.
It is simply ludicrous to assume that one can predict the mood of India, a country of 1.25 billion population, by speaking to just 2,464 people. That is, if Pew indeed spoke to even 2,464 people. It looks more like a case of Pew taking the mickey out of an average Indian’s intelligence or the American agency being funded to publish insanely favourable headlines for Modi ahead of Gujarat elections.
One needn’t be a psephologist to debunk Pew’s ‘con job,’ which was widely presented as a credible survey. Consider these headlines by Pew;
- At least nine-in-ten Indians in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana.
Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have non-BJP governments, while Modi’s party is an extremely insignificant partner in Andhra Pradesh’s Chandrababu Naidu’s government. Tamil Nadu had assembly elections last year, when the BJP failed to win a single assembly seat with nearly all its candidates losing deposits. The state, according to Pew, now has 90% support for Modi.
- 9 out of 10 people in the western states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh hold a favorable view of the prime minister.
In Mahrashtra, BJP’s best ever performance was in 2014 when the party rode the popularity crest of Modi and emerged as the single largest party to win 122 seats with 42.4% vote share. It was still way behind the half way mark of 145 seats in the 288-seat assembly. Clearly, the BJP is now ‘supposedly set to win’ 260 seats there, according to Pew’s imaginary survey.
Modi at his peak could secure the support of just 45% voters in Gujarat in 2014 Lok Sabha polls when his party had won all 26 parliamentary seats. In Chhattisgarh too, BJP won 10 out of 11 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, but its vote share was less than 50%. One mustn’t forget that India was in the grip of the ‘Modi wave’ in 2014. But now, the American agency’s questionable survey would have everyone of us believe that Modi’s popularity has doubled in these states despite three and a half years of governance and growing anti-incumbency.
- More than eight-in-ten in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal and the northern states of Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh support Modi
This will make an average Indian with even below-par understanding of politics laugh. People in Bihar had spectacularly rejected the prime minister in October last year, when he led his party to a humiliating defeat. Odisha has had an uninterrupted rule of BJD’s Naveen Patnaik since 1999 and Modi’s party could win just three out of 295 assembly seats in West Bengal, when the state went for elections in 2016. But Pew is convinced that 80% population in these states now support Modi.
Delhi too had rejected Modi in 2015 when a newbie Aam Aadmi Party won 67 out of 70 seats leaving the BJP with just three seats. In the crucial by-election in Bawana in Delhi just few months ago, Modi’s party had once again failed to win the election.
Pew claimed it carried out the survey in February- March, the same time Punjab was going for polls. Ironically, the state dumped the BJP-Akali Dal government even as Pew claimed 80% population in the state were in love with Modi.
And 80% support for Modi in Madhya Pradesh was glaringly evident during the just-concluded by-election in Chitrakoot, where the rival Congress candidate emerged victorious by more than 14,000 votes!.
Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have BJP governments. However, while the support for the saffron party in Rajasthan was 54% even when it swept polls in 2014 by winning all 25 seats, the same stood at less than 40% in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, when Modi led his party to a historic win with 312 seats.
Modi and his party are facing considerable anger in Gujarat, where the electoral battle has assumed considerably high stakes. Modi himself ruled this state for more than 12 years and turned Gujarat into a Hindutva lab. A less-than-satisfactory performance here in December will spell disaster for him and his party while significantly weakening his prospects of re-election as India’s prime minister in 2019.
The timing of Pew’s ‘survey’ suddenly starts to make sense. If I were Modi, I would immediately call for Lok Sabha polls. It would be extremely foolish for Modi to not take advantage of the approval by 90% Indians.