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Chhotebhai Chhotebhai
04 Mar 2024

We all have our moods, individually and collectively, as a nation. India Today, the nation's leading weekly, published an "Exclusive Mood of the Nation Poll" in its issue dated 19th February. I am not a number cruncher or an analyst, but as a writer, I like to read between the lines, so here goes.

The cover page shows a warrior like Narendra Modi marching ahead of the Army and Naval Chiefs of Staff. The headline reads "Heading for a Hat-Trick", and the by-line is "His personal popularity still high, PM Narendra Modi and the BJP are set to return".

Let us read between the lines before some start brooding over this headline. Having done so, I can confidently say, "Don't judge the magazine by its cover". It is a clever presentation of innuendo, where its data is self-contradictory or hard to swallow.

Let's begin with the cover. Why the choice of a military-like stance? Are we a democracy or a military dictatorship? Such macho images are reinforced by the PM snorkelling in Lakshwadeep and, more recently, Dwarka, Gujarat. Bollywood movies like Tejas and Fighter add to the imagery. Dangerous portents.

To assess the "mood" in its actual perspective, we must first study its methodology. If the parameters are faulty, then so will be the end result. I chanced upon a YouTube video of noted political commentator Sri Yogendra Yadav on this poll. Its methodology is shown on page 25. Yadav makes a startling revelation.

This poll was not conducted face-to-face or door-to-door but randomly over the phone. If you receive a call from an unknown number asking sensitive political questions, will you answer genuinely or in trepidation, not knowing who the caller is or their intent?

Secondly, this poll was conducted between 23rd December 2023 and 28th January 2024, when the hype around the Ram Mandir inauguration peaked. This hypercharged event would have emotionally impacted the respondents. Hence, this cannot be considered a reasonable or balanced poll. Thirdly, there were just 36,000 respondents in a population of 140 crores. Was this then really the mood of the nation? I have my doubts and misgivings. This poll cannot be considered a barometer of the nation's mood.

Now, let's examine some of the questions and answers. Respondents were asked who India's best PM was. Not surprisingly, 44% voted for Modi. What surprised me is that just 6% voted for Jawahar Lal Nehru. So obviously, our people don't know the country's history, or they were in trepidation, just playing to the gallery.

Another question was, "What is the single greatest achievement of the NDA government?" Hold your breath. 20% said it was the handling of the COVID pandemic. Next was the Ram temple at 17%, followed by 14% for a corruption-free government, 11% for removal of Article 370 and a mere 5% for infrastructure development! This is when the government keeps on harping on Vikas (development).

As for COVID handling, did we not see thousands of bodies floating in rivers and lakhs of poor people trudging wearily along the highways with baggage and family in tow. How does this qualify as an "achievement"?

Freedom from corruption is a cruel joke. "Na khaunga na khane doonga" is mere hype. Can anybody get their pension or ration card (basic rights) without greasing palms? Ask those in business or industry. The going rates for getting one's papers in order have gone through the roof.

What has the revocation of Article 370 achieved? Has terrorism been eliminated? Are the people of Kashmir happier? The BJP lost miserably in recent local body elections in Ladakh, and the Ladakhis are out on the streets saying they got a raw deal. So this, too, cannot be termed an "achievement".

Ironically, on page 22, there is a question, "Has the Modi government brought down corruption?" a resounding 47% say "No". Another question on the same page is, "Do you think that the BJP government misuses central agencies such as the ED, CBI and IT departments more than previous governments?" Here again, 46% answered "Yes". The answers to both these questions are a massive dent in the image building of the BJP.

Another question is, "What will PM Modi be most remembered for?" Not surprisingly, 42% say for the construction of the Ram Temple, 19% say raising India's global stature (Vishwaguru), 12% say Article 370, 6% say demonetisation, 6% COVID management and 5% the fight against corruption. These figures are at considerable variance with a similar question asked earlier, adding substance to the belief that this survey is not worth the paper that it has been printed on.

Global stature (Vishwa guru) is pure hype. Other than France, which country has been cosying up to India? France's intentions are obvious. Read Rafaele, etc. The USA and Canada have strained relations over alleged killings/ attempts to murder by Indian agencies on their soil. Let alone belligerent China and Pakistan and our relationships with our neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar have all soured. During the time of Nehru and the NAM, India held its head high in the comity of nations. Not so today, as we support naked aggression by Russia and Israel to the extent that we are now exporting manpower for their war effort. Recently, an Indian victim of the bombing in Russia was from – you guessed right – Gujarat! If India is shining, then why are people from Punjab and Gujarat taking the illegal "donkey route" to the new land of milk and honey, the USA?

Demonetisation achieved nothing. It neither curbed black money nor fake currency. The hastily issued 2000 rupee notes were even more hastily withdrawn. Moreover, a day after demonetisation was announced, PayTM came out with full-page ads. Were they hand in glove with the government? Now, thanks to RBI strictures, PayTM is down in the dumps. If Modi is to be remembered for this catastrophe, then so be it.

The mood on the economic front is the biggest slap on the face of the government (pages 28 and 29). A whopping 62% say that their economic status is either unchanged or deteriorated after Modi took over. Another 54% say that unemployment is a significant concern. Again, 62% say their household budget has gone for a toss. After studying this data, the people should be in a vile mood. Modi's singular achievement seems to be the inauguration of an incomplete Ram Temple.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that for a hungry man, God comes as bread. In Modi's India, bread (economics) has been pushed to the back burner while God (mandir and religion) takes precedence. If we Indians don't mind going to bed hungry because we are satiated with a temple, then let us not cry later, clutching our bellies, for we have what we deserve. Sociologists correctly state that a nation gets the leaders it deserves.

A parting shot at the survey. Why did it not ask uncomfortable questions like, Are the Minorities living in fear? How many Muslims have more than one wife, and are they the only ones? How many have been converted to Christianity by fraud, fear or inducement? (There hasn't been a conviction since such laws were introduced about 50 years ago). Why has the 2021 Census not been conducted? Is the Agniveer scheme good for the country? How prudent is it to allow somebody like Adani to produce arms, ammunition and high-tech weapons systems? Why should the government enter our kitchens and bedrooms seeking to know what we eat, what we wear, or who we marry? Why is Manipur still burning? When will elections be held in Kashmir? When will Governors stop interfering in the functioning of State governments? When will it stop political poaching and brazen horse trading?

Had India Today asked some of these questions, it would have known the real mood of the nation. The magazine's erroneous poll has only served the ruling party's interests in its perception battle. But why blame the BJP or the magazine if opposition parties keep squabbling among themselves and are unable to get their act together? And how long will the Congress hang on to the coattails of the Gandhi family in whose time we have seen the greatest exodus, including former Union and Chief Ministers?

(The writer does not owe allegiance to any political party. In past elections, he has voted as per the dictates of his conscience.)

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