Modi vs who? ‘Don’t know/can’t say’

The Modi Sarkar completes seven years in power next week.

Published: 23rd May 2021 07:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd May 2021 07:34 AM   |  A+A-

PM Modi (Photo | Twitter)

The Modi Sarkar completes seven years in power next week. There is much lather and debate about the fall in the approval ratings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — from 63 per cent to 38 per cent as per the weekly tracker of C Voter and from 68 per cent in May 2020 to 33 per cent as per a poll by the global outfit Morning Consult.

The findings are unsurprising given the magnitude of despair and distress witnessed. In their management of the second wave of the pandemic, governments (Centre and states) have assigned vaccination the role of sole saviour. And the management of vaccine procurement has left millions in a queue of want. Undoubtedly, the response reflects the grief and anger among the people across India.

It is rare for an opinion poll to produce a riveting perspective about India’s political landscape through one multiple option question. And pollster Yashwant Deshmukh, through his poll which tracks 10,000 people, produced just that.

The C-Voter tracker asked, ‘Who do you think is the most suitable candidate for the post of the Prime Minister of India?’. The granular detail of the responses is telling. The preference for Narendra Modi has slipped from 64 to 41 per cent. What is more significant is that the second choice of respondents, at around 18 per cent, is ‘Don’t know/ Can’t Say’. A people disappointed and despondent are adrift in the quest for an elusive option for deliverance.

The sense of schadenfreude — that vicarious joy at another’s misery — across opposition ranks though is misplaced. There is much speculation about the ‘coming together’ of opposition parties following the victory of the Trinamool Congress in Bengal. Well, Mamata Banerjee is at just over three per cent and the sum total of affiliation of all the candidates in the fray is lower than that of Modi. Rahul Gandhi at 11.6 per cent tops the chart of opposition leaders, and the others at best command single digit subscription.

The sum of pieces thesis doesn’t quite add up — the stunning fact is that the ratios of those saying don’t know/can’t say has shot up from 8 to 18 per cent. Verily, the excitement in the ranks of the Congress and other parties can be characterised as wishful thinking. The buzz about a meaningful challenge to the BJP and Modi is ambition in the quest of affiliation, a plot in search of screenplay, or charitably speaking a narrative in search of evidence. There isn’t an individual or a party close to be being characterised as a real challenger.

Earlier this week Rahul Gandhi, former Congress President who many suspect could be the future president, posted on Twitter a quote by the philosopher Karl Popper. “True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge; it’s the refusal to acquire it.” The taunt, ostensibly aimed at the ruling establishment, holds true for the Congress too.

Fact is the Congress too has refused to acquire knowledge -- the promise of introspection made in 2014 could soon acquire the tag of an archaeological dig. It is true that the Congress is a pan Indian entity — it secured 11.9 crore votes in 2019 even though it won only 52 seats. But it has struggled across polls and states given the state of its organisation. Much like rain-fed farms, the party sprouts a cadre only when irrigated by the precipitation of power. And without a visible leadership and organisation, it has been reduced to an idea.

The failures of a flailing opposition though are not a cause for celebration for the BJP. It is instructive to remember that the absence of a challenger or political entity did not detain the defeat of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. What must worry the Sangh Parivar is that alongside the prime minister, there has been a sharp slide in the rating of Home Minister Amit Shah viewed, arguably, as a proxy for the ruling party of the country.

The decline in approval is coterminous with the arrival of the pandemic, and the top most concern of those polled are the management of the twin challenges of the economy and the pandemic. The poll shows the respondents are increasingly pessimistic both about their own life and the state of the country. The operative phrase delicately deployed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat is ‘complacent’. The choices and decisions, by design or default, have led to the destruction of political capital indispensable for catalysing change.

Critical for reclaiming popular approval is the approach to change. Much depends on how the vaccination rollout is redesigned and how the economy is revived. The plethora of cases across high courts on the management of the pandemic and on crucial policy matters reflect the inadequacies of talent in the government, of state capacity, the perpetuation of Babudom and of Committee Raj.

Albert Einstein observed that “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” Governance continues to be sluggish, antiquated in structure and systems and inefficient — much like the Ambassador cars, the symbol of officialdom for decades. 

Modi arrived in 2014 with the promise of transformative change. The motto of minimum government, maximum governance awaits reclamation.

Shankkar aiyar
Author of The Gated Republic, Aadhaar:
A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit
Revolution, and Accidental India


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