Why PM Modi’s Popularity Is Intact Despite Corona Crisis & Chaos

Why does our PM’s popularity, which remains at quite an elevated level anyway, soar in moments of extreme crisis?

Updated02 May 2020, 08:00 AM IST
Opinion
5 min read

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj

The period of extended lockdown has been one of virtual interaction with loved ones after years. The biggest bonus for me has been reconnecting with my school mates – many of them women – spread all across the country, after over 30 years. We barely spoke to each other then, but we don’t shy away from cracking jokes or making fun of each other now. For me, it is almost like a revolution as girls and boys used to live completely different lives during our school days.

Even in such informal groups with newfound bonhomie after years of separation, whenever I post something critical of how the government has tackled the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing crisis, the common response is invariably “But PM Modi remains our best bet to take us out of the current crisis.”

Snapshot
  • Most believe that hundred percent compliance with the total lockdown is the only credible fight against corona. Why? Because the prime minister has said so.
  • The government must have a plan to rescue the economy and must determine whether or not going for more testing is a matter of detailing that can always be adjusted should the need arise.
  • Why does our PM’s popularity, which remains at quite an elevated level anyway, soar in moments of extreme crisis? We even saw this during the demonetisation days, the almost unwavering support.
  • The reason behind his unwavering popularity could be that Modi represents, to use Karl Marx’s theory, the anti-thesis to what was an established thesis before him.

Could PM Modi Have Handled Corona Crisis Better?

I have drawn their attention to issues which, I think, could have been handled better. Here are some of them:

  • We have had the most stringent lockdown compared to most other countries. But the government’s miserly approach, when it comes to providing relief to the people, has caused a lot of distress. While advanced countries like Germany and the US have done whatever they could, we are still stuck with the most conservative and logic-defying approach of saving the fisc. People and businesses need relief now, and the government seems to be unmoved – and the delay is inexplicable.
  • Such an extended period of lockdown has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of the weaker sections against other diseases. Massive job losses are either around the corner or have already taken place. In all likelihood, there is going to be a reversal of all the gains we have made in recent years on the poverty front. Since poverty remains our biggest bane, total lockdown is a luxury we can ill-afford. The focus, therefore, should be on fixing the economy.

Why Lockdown Norms Should Be Relaxed

  • In our fight against coronavirus, we started with the most blunt instrument, which is complete lockdown. We know that lockdown can, at best, delay the inevitable – that is, the spread of the infection. Why persist with the blunt instrument and why not plan an exit strategy now, seeing the sort of socio-economic distress this has caused?
  • And finally, as one of the country’s leading columnists has opined, there is the danger of India ending up with the worst of both the worlds: the virus running amok, and the lockdown doing irreparable damage to the economy.

My friends, relatives and acquaintances have fortunately tried to give my pointers a patient hearing.

Total Compliance With PM’s Lockdown Orders

I can, however, gauge from the response of my family and friends that they believe that hundred percent compliance with the total lockdown is the only credible fight against corona. Why? Because the prime minister has said so.

The government must have a plan in place to rescue the economy and must determine whether or not going for more testing is a matter of detailing that can always be adjusted should the need arise.

Most of the data points suggest that my friends and relatives echo the views of most other Indians.

Google data suggests that following the lockdown announcement, visits to public places plunged by a whopping 77 percent, which remains one of the highest in the world. And according to reports, movement of people between satellite towns, Delhi-Ghaziabad and Mumbai-Thane, which are almost like conjoined twins, dropped in excess of 90 percent following the lockdown.

Modi’s Heightened Popularity During Crisis

These are some of the many data sets suggesting that the compliance with the PM’s call for social distancing and staying at home, and not crossing the proverbial ‘Lakshman Rekha’ has been almost total. This compliance has been unquestioning. And the sections – urban poor, daily wage workers, people employed with the unorganised sector – which are otherwise considered vulnerable, have also followed the lockdown in letter and spirit. Migrant workers have shown defiance in pockets, but their ire has been directed mostly against the local administration and not so much against the lockdown decision per se.

Why does our PM’s popularity, which remains at quite an elevated level anyway, soar in moments of extreme crisis?

We have seen the demonetisation days, when people were struggling to keep body and soul together. Jobs were lost, businesses shut overnight, marriages got postponed, people spent hours waiting for their turn to withdraw and exchange their own money, and many precious lives were also lost. We are yet to see any of the projected benefits of demonetisation. Yet people believed PM Modi and shushed all his critics.

Modi’s Supporters Know That ‘Tapasya’ Involves ‘Penance’

We are witnessing an action replay of the same, that is, the mass’s support for the PM despite crisis. Why is this the case?

I don’t have a definite answer. My guess is Modi represents, to use Karl Marx’s theory, the anti-thesis to what was an established thesis before him. The thesis was top-down, elitist, and only partially democratic, in the sense that it did not represent the aspirations of a vast majority who did not have access to liberal and anglicised education.

In that sense, Modi represents all those who were mostly excluded – real or perceived.

While the ways and means may seem undemocratic, Modi is at the forefront of leading a democratic revolution. And the kind of audacity he has shown when it comes to taking tough decisions, has built his image as a change-maker, bent on creating a new order. Thus, the constant applause for him when chips are down.

After all, tapasya (penance), that great Indian trait worth pursuing, involves pain before one attains all of one’s goals.

(Mayank Mishra is a senior journalist who writes on Indian economy and politics, and their intersection. He tweets at @Mayankprem. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 22 Apr 2020, 11:10 AM IST
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