May 17, 2018

Narendra Modi's 4-year report card

BJP members, including a man with a Modi mask, celebrate outside the Party office in Bengaluru, India. Photo: Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Four years in, and one year from the next general election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains highly popular despite not delivering the massive economic strides some expected.

The big picture: With his right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party's recent gains in the Southern state of Karnataka, there are few places left in India where Modi's agenda doesn't reign supreme.

Why he's popular

Five big reasons why Modi attained and maintained his popularity, from Shailesh Kumar, Eurasia Group's South Asia director:

  1. He's a talented orator.
  2. He's a brilliant political tactician. "I've never seen anything like what [Modi and BJP] pull off time and time again," Kumar says, noting the victory in Karnataka.
  3. He tapped into a national anxiety. Similarly to President Trump, Modi and the BJP spoke to India's Hindu majority, which felt sidelined by certain policies of the left-leaning Congress party.
  4. He promised economic development. For millions of voters, the 2014 election was about who could turn India into a normal, developed country. And Modi said he could.
  5. The opposition is weak. Congress has not been able to organize its leadership for decades.
How he has fared

Aparna Pande, a regional expert at the Hudson Institute, notes that the economy has grown during Modi's tenure, but not to the extent he promised.

    • He implemented a country-wide goods and services tax, eliminating the state-by-state tax systems. That will make it easier to do business in India and encourage growth in the long run, but those effects aren't apparent yet, Pande says.
    • He ordered demonetization to move India away from its reliance on cash and foster the growth of digital transactions, but the vast majority of the country still prefers cash.
  • The social issues: Modi has delivered key social changes that are central issues for his Hindu base, including a ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter.

The bottom line: "As is the case with any populist leader, people will still believe them if they see them as being different than the current establishment."

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