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What's behind Narendra Modi's 'popularity' in India?

What's behind Narendra Modi's 'popularity' in India?
From Al Jazeera - November 20, 2017

New Delhi, India - Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains "by far the most popular national figure in Indian politics" more than three years after coming to power, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center last week.

Nearly nine out of 10 Indians say they have a favourable view of Modi, says the survey conducted between February 21 and March 10 this year among 2,464 respondents.

The survey says people are satisfied with the direction in which the country is being steered and the state of the economy under Modi despite the controversial decision to ban high currency notes last November and a bleakemployment situation.

For the prime minister's supporters, these approval ratings seem like vindication.

"It's easy for the masses to identify with Narendra Modi since he is literally one of them having risen from a humble tea-seller to now the prime minister of the largest democracy," said Nalin Kohli, spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"His agenda includes poverty elimination and creation of a 'New India' which is developed and inclusive, corruption free where delivery of benefits reach the intended and where aspirations can attain flight as India attains its rightful place in the global arena," he told Al Jazeera.

'Bogus research'

The Pew poll findings show a majority of Indians still back Modi's stewardship of Asias third-largest economy.

I feel that those who supported him continue to believe that his intentions were right and they are willing to give him the benefit of doubt

Prashant Jha, author of "How The BJP Wins"

"More than eight-in-ten say economic conditions are good. And the share of adults who say the economy is very good (30 percent) has tripled in the past three years," says the survey.

Young Indians (18-29) are more "intense" supporters of the divisive BJP leader than their elders. Seven out of 10 Indians approve of Modis record in dealing with corruption and "terrorism".

But economist Mohan Guruswamy is not impressed.

"This is bogus research. I do not accept that. They go around urban areas, middle-class, English-speaking areas to ask these light questions. Some of these surveys are very dubious, they are meant to also serve a political goal," said Guruswamy, a former economic adviser to the federal government in the late 1990s.

"I wo not take this poll seriously because other numbers do not reflect this sentiment - no job creation, no investments in infrastructure, in capital expenditure, the lacklustre state of the economy. All these indicators showing things are not good," he told Al Jazeera.

Pew admits the "sample is disproportionately urban", but claims the data are "weighted to reflect the actual urban/rural distribution in India".

"Go ask the people in the rural countryside of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, you would get a better sense of what the people really think. For me, the 600 million Indians who are below poverty line are the average Indians - Did Pew go speak to them?" Guruswamy asks.

Rural-urban divide

The Pew survey - whichdoes reflect this rural-urban divide in its findings -however, says opposition leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi "are more popular in rural areas than in urban areas".

It's easy for the masses to identify with Narendra Modi since he is literally one of them having risen from a humble tea-seller to now the prime minister of the largest democracy

Nalin Kohli, BJP spokesman

"Rural Indians view the prime ministers handling of corruption less favorably than do city dwellers. Women are particularly critical of how he has dealt with communal relations. And rural Indians are less supportive than those in urban areas of his handling of both communal relations and air pollution," the survey adds.

'Faith in Modi's intent and his integrity'

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