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Demonetisation, GST Denting Modi’s Popularity: Surveys

By MAYANK MISHRA

Despite wide variation in seats and vote share projections, all recent surveys clearly indicate a significant dip in Prime Minister NarendraModi’s popularity. While he continues to be the most popular leader in the country by some distance, he no longer enjoys the kind of invincibility he did only a few months ago.
Other broad conclusions coming out of the surveys are: The BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) is unlikely to get an absolute majority on its own in the 2019 LokSabha elections, the Congress is gaining ground at the expense of the BJP, and in the face of combined opposition, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may even trail the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in terms of vote share, if not in terms of seats.
Highlights From Some of the Recent Surveys
The prime minister’s approval rating has dipped below the crucial 50 percent mark for the first time in two years. It used to be close to 65 percent in the first few months of the last year.
According to projections done by multiple surveys, the BJP is expected to get 194 to 227 seats. In other words, the BJP is expected to lose at least 55 to 90 seats compared to what it got in the 2014 LokSabha elections.
The NDA’s projected tally has come down from a high of 349 in January 2017 to 228 in the most recent survey done by the India Today group.
The BJP is unlikely to make significant gains in terms of vote share compared to the last general election. The saffron party had a vote share close to 31 percent last time around.
According to a recent CSDS survey, the BJP is expected to suffer considerably in smaller cities and towns. With rural distress well and truly entrenched, the saffron party is unlikely to repeat its performance in rural areas. Let us remember that there are nearly 110 semi-urban and 340 predominantly rural LokSabha seats in the country.
All these surveys have not factored in the possibility of a likely grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh between the Congress, the BahujanSamaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). If that happens, the sheer arithmetic of it will put the BJP on the back foot in the country’s most populous state. Uttar Pradesh had contributed the most to the BJP’s impressive LokSabha numbers in the 2014 elections.
The recent findings are in sharp contrast to what we used to see not so long ago. The headlines coming out of surveys then used to be: ‘The rise and rise of PM Modi’, ‘Invincible Modi’ and ‘BJP’s popularity continues to go up despite three years of incumbency.’
Two big economic decisions – the inexplicable demonetisation, and shoddily implemented Goods and Services Tax (GST). Both of them are reported to have done considerable damage to the mass-employment-generating informal sector. Recently, the Reserve Bank of India too hinted that the very high compliance cost of GST has hit the MSME sector hard, impacting exports too.
As a result, there is considerable disenchantment in areas where the informal sector has a significant presence. Let us gauge the mood of the nation following the twin decisions of demonetisation and GST with the help of some data.
The BJP could manage only 23 percent of seats in the elections for nagarpanchayats held in October 2017 in Uttar Pradesh. This was one of the early signs of growing disenchantment with the ruling coalition in smaller urban conglomerates. The BJP’s vote share dropped below the psychologically important 30 percent mark in this tier of urban local bodies. That too within months of a thumping victory in the Assembly elections.
Of the 127 semi-urban and rural Assembly seats in Gujarat, the Congress won as many as 68 seats. The BJP could manage only 55 of these seats. This was yet another indication of people in villages and small towns drifting away from the BJP.
The BJP lost almost all semi-urban and rural seats in bypolls held post GST and demonetisation. Phulpur, Araria, Kairana and Bhandara-Gondia are some of many such examples.
CSDS’ latest Mood of the Nation survey says that when it comes to smaller towns, the Congress is as popular as the BJP. And there has been considerable erosion in support for the BJP in these areas. It says that the BJP’s popularity in big cities, on the other hand, has gone up in the last one year.
Five Key Takeaways From Recent Survey Findings
PM Modi’s approval rating falling below the 50 percent mark suggests that the Modi premium everybody has been talking about is not as effective now as it was only a few months ago.
People are not too happy with decisions like demonetisation and GST, which were personally backed by the prime minister.
If the BJP does not attract additional votes compared to what it got in the last LokSabha elections, the growing index of opposition unity in almost all states will make a significant dent in the BJP’s overall seat tally.
We are likely to go back to the coalition era as none of the big parties is likely to get an absolute majority in the next LokSabha elections.
Now it all boils down to who will have the more formidable coalition – BJP or Congress. That will decide who gets to rule the country for the next five years.