C&B Notes

Modi’s Re-Election Bid

India’s 900 million (!) registered voters started going to the polls earlier this month with voting taking place from April 11th to May 19th.  The key issues in the election are similar to those in the West — the economy, jobs, national security, the projection of military power, and the vilification of opponents.  Will Narendra Modi get another five years?

But if united by food, Pokar’s owner and the young couriers who deliver his delicacies differ sharply when it comes to their assessment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now seeking a second term in a general election contest whose weeks-long voting process starts on Thursday.

Mr. Bhati, who voted for Mr.  Modi in 2014, is bitterly disappointed with what has happened over the past five years.  He believes that despite official figures India’s economy slowed sharply due to the premier’s mis-steps while promised jobs and investments have not materialised.  “Modi raised expectation that he was going to transform the country,” he says.  “But India has gone backwards under him.  He is lying about the GDP numbers.  People who have done MBAs are working as waiters.”  The Zomato and Swiggy delivery boys, however, brim with enthusiasm for Mr. Modi, especially his recent authorisation of a missile strike on an alleged terrorist training camp in neighbouring Pakistan.  Their excitement is mirrored by Akshay Bhati, 25, whose father supplies milk to the shop.  “The power of the nation has gone up,” the younger Mr. Bhati says.  “Before, any enemy country would come and attack India and just get away with it — India would not do anything. Now, we will enter your house and kill you.”

The divergent views among the evening crowd at Pokar’s reflects the deep faultlines among India’s 900m eligible voters, as they gear up for what has become an unusually personality-driven general election contest.  The voting will serve as a national assessment of how well the charismatic populist Mr. Modi has lived up to the high expectations he raised of a “New India”, when he took power in 2014 after 10 years of disappointing rule by the Congress party.  Known for his decisiveness, risk-taking and his highly-personalised operating style, Mr. Modi has dominated India’s political landscape like no other leader since Indira Gandhi, who is still remembered for her own strong, authoritarian streak.  He has mesmerised the public with a vision of an India which enjoys a modern, developed economy, an efficient honest government and global stature, while remaining rooted in the traditional values and social mores of its Hindu majority.

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Mr. Modi swept to power in New Delhi in 2014, pledging to bring acche din, or good times, for India, with accelerated economic growth and millions of new jobs.  But his record of delivery on these promises is highly contentious.  The prime minister insists India’s economy has grown faster under his leadership than ever before, with an average annual GDP growth of 7.3 per cent, compared with an annual average of 6.7 per cent under the previous Congress-led government.  But many economists have questioned the credibility of official data, amid perceptions of unprecedented political interference.  Even by New Delhi’s own numbers, India’s GDP growth slowed to 6.6 per cent in the three months ending December 31, its slowest pace in five quarters…

Even without the Balakot boost, analysts say Mr. Modi already had a good shot at a second term, although his support has been eroding somewhat.  Pew’s survey last spring found that 55 per cent of Indians were generally satisfied with the country’s direction.  Though down sharply from the soaring 70 per cent a year earlier, it still reflected an upbeat attitude.  Mr. Modi also remains personally popular, with his image of honesty, integrity and hard work still intact.

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