NEW DELHI: More than two years into his tenure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to have broad support in India, despite criticism over stalled economic reforms and religious and caste tensions in the country, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. The report, which was published Monday, found that 81 per cent of Indians had a favorable view of Modi in 2016, down from 87 per cent the year before. It also found that, even among supporters of the Indian National Congress party, the main opposition group, a majority had a positive view of Modi and of his Bharatiya Janata Party.
“When I talk to Indian elites, including the press, there’s this sense of frustration that Modi hasn’t lived up to expectations,” Bruce Stokes, author of the report and director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center, said in a telephone interview. “We don’t really see that in public opinion.” Rather, he said, “it seems that the public is still enamored of Modi.” Modi swept into power in 2014 on a wave of public support for his development agenda and on disaffection with the previous governing coalition, led by the Congress party. Though economic changes have been intermittent, partly because of lack of support in Parliament from other parties, eight in 10 Indians have a positive view of the economy, and about two-thirds are satisfied with the way things are going in India generally, according to the survey. Part of the good will could be explained by the country’s economic growth; an annual rate of 7.1 percent for the most recent quarter makes India’s the fastest-growing large economy in the world. But significant economic alterations, including those regarding land acquisition and labor, which are seen as crucial for modernizing India’s economy and expanding its formal workforce, have stalled because of lack of support in Parliament. In one sign of progress, however, the government in August pushed through the Goods and Services Tax, a uniform code that should do away with overlapping state and federal taxes, helping to unify the economy.
“People are not willing to give up on him on the economy so quickly,” said Shekhar Gupta, a journalist and political commentator, adding that Modi’s frequent speaking engagements may have helped bolster his popularity. “After a long time, Indians have a leader who’s speaking to them directly and speaking to them all the time.” The pollsters interviewed 2,464 randomly selected adults from April 7 to May 24 in 15 states and in New Delhi, the capital. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Though many expressed support for Modi and for his party, increasing polarization between backers of Bharatiya Janata and those of the Congress party was apparent in the survey. Those differences were particularly stark on domestic issues like corruption, unemployment and help for the poor, where support from Congress party backers for Modi’s efforts has fallen since last year. One of the main criticisms of Modi has been his apparent reticence to confront instances of intolerance. In recent months, there has been an increase in reports of violence from self-appointed cow protection groups, which have proliferated under his tenure. Cows are holy animals in Hinduism, and their slaughter is illegal in much of India. Last year, a Muslim man was killed after rumors that he had slaughtered a cow and eaten beef. After an attack on four Dalits, members of India’s lowest caste, in Gujarat state, Modi spoke out against the violence. But such episodes, while provoking criticism among the country’s intellectuals, appear to carry less weight with the public, according to the survey. About half of the respondents viewed “communal incidents,” or tensions between religions or castes, as a very serious problem, but the issue ranked behind others such as corruption, crime, terrorism and unemployment.