Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 26 August 2019

Survey: Narendra Modi's popularity higher than during India's 2014 elections

Prime minister boosted by air strikes on Pakistan and recent policies and

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a campaign rally in Uttar Pradesh state on March 28, 2019. Reuters
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a campaign rally in Uttar Pradesh state on March 28, 2019. Reuters

India’s air strikes against a terrorist camp in Pakistan, a new jobs quota and cash handouts to farmers have lifted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity back to peak levels, according to a pre-election survey.

The findings of the poll were released as the government's claims that India's air force shot down a Pakistani jet during in a dogfight following the air strikes were cast in doubt by reports that US officials had found that none of Pakistan's F-16 fighters were missing.

Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party suffered another setback on Saturday with the defection of a second high-profile MP to the main opposition Congress party.

The poll conducted by the Lokniti research programme at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies found that 43 per cent of respondents wanted Mr Modi to return as prime minister – seven percentage points higher than during the 2014 elections, when a little over one-third had wanted him to lead the country. Conducted from March 24 to March 31, the poll surveyed 10,010 respondents spread across 19 of the country’s 29 states.

Voting in India is set to take place in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 and the result will be announced on May 23.

The Lokniti survey suggested that "three decisions of the Modi government taken between January 7 and February 26 might just have the ability to change the course of an election that just could very well have been a close race”.

In the first quarter of 2019, the BJP-led government decided to assign 10 per cent quotas to economically weaker groups in India, pledged to transfer money to bank accounts of farmers and conducted air strikes inside Pakistan following a terrorist attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir.

Most respondents did not explicitly say these would be the most important voting issues for them and instead chose unemployment and development as the key factors, the survey showed.

“However, looking at other data from the survey, we have reason to believe that the three back-to-back happenings seem to have impacted voter preferences and opinions, quite possibly at a sub-conscious level,” the Lokniti poll found.

In contrast to the effect that the air strikes, reservation and cash transfers seem to have had on the BJP’s and Mr Modi’s popularity, the controversy over the government's deal with France to purchase Rafale fighter jets, and the Congress party’s assurance of a minimum-income guarantee to the poor were found to be not as strong, the survey found.

The Congress announced on Saturday that Shatrughan Sinha, a popular former Bollywood actor, had formally joined the party and would be contesting from the Patna Sahib seat in Bihar, which he has held for the past 10 years as a BJP member.

Mr Sinha's decision to quit the BJP followed an increasingly acrimonious relationship with its leadership in recent years. "The differences I have with some of the present people and policies of the party, leave me with no option but to part ways with it," he wrote in a farewell message on Twitter.

Mr Sinha will be contesting against the BJP federal minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for the Patna Sahib seat.

Former Indian cricketer Kirti Azad also defected to the Congress from the BJP recently. Mr Azad, a three-time MP from Dharbanga constituency in Bihar, was suspended by his former party in 2015 after raising corruption allegations against the federal finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Updated: April 6, 2019 05:20 PM