NEW YORK – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi must surely feel on top of the world this weekend. At least, he can smell clean, fresh air; see blue sky, atop the smog and dense pollution shrouding Delhi.
A slew of good news came this week like a deck of cards splayed out, showing all aces, for the beleaguered prime minister who has of late faced a barrage of criticism over governance and reforms with trademark stoic calm and silence: Moody’s Investors Service raised India’s sovereign rating for the first time since 2004 – applauded Modi’s economic initiatives in India, including demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), gave a reassuring thumbs up for India’s long-term economic growth and prosperity.
Days before, the respected Pew Research Center released a survey which revealed Modi’s popularity is not only intact, but in fact, zooming with the Indian masses, across the length and breadth of the country. Critically, for Modi, the survey made it clear that despite teething troubles, India understands and appreciates his tough reforms to weed out corruption and instill long-term economic growth.
The icing on the cake for Modi, who loves to post selfies on social media and has inculcated a sardonic sense of humor, might be a University of Michigan study this week which went gaga over his use of sarcasm in witty tweets, targeting the opposition, with Rahul Gandhi facing the brunt of his barbs. That, explained the study, is the reason for his huge following on twitter, which is 36 million and counting. If nothing else, that revelation must have brought a huge grin on the prime minister’s face (Mr. Trump, please note!).
Last month, the World Bank too had made clear their satisfaction with India’s progress, and potential for growth. India jumped 30 places to rank 100th in the latest ranking for doing business across borders.
The uptick for Modi couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Gujarat state elections coming up next month. India’s state of economy has been a hot button topic, with partisan divide dictating discussions, rather than ample proof to back arguments, whether it’s in offices, living rooms, or on social media. Now, Modi has proof to back his reforms, not worry about anti-incumbency seeping in to thwart his long-term mission plans.
Pew noted in its survey: “Three years into Modi’s five-year tenure, the honeymoon period for his administration may be over but the public’s love affair with current conditions in India is even more intense.”
The survey revealed that nearly nine-in-ten Indians hold a favorable opinion of Modi, comparable to their view of him in 2015, after a year in office. Roughly seven-in-ten say they have a very favorable view of the prime minister, again similar to public views in 2015. The survey was conducted among 2,464 respondents in India from February 21 to March 10, 2017.
Interestingly, Modi’s overwhelming popularity extends across India. At least nine-in-ten Indians in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana and in the western states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh hold a favorable view of the prime minister. The same is true for more than eight-in-ten in the eastern states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal and the northern states of Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Since 2015, Modi’s popularity is relatively unchanged in the north, has risen in the west and the south and is down slightly in the east.
Modi remains by far the most popular national figure in Indian politics tested in the survey. His favorable rating is 31 percentage points higher than that of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party, and is 30 points more than that for Rahul Gandhi, who led the Congress ticket in the last Lok Sabha election.
The public’s positive assessment of Modi is buoyed by growing contentment with the Indian economy: More than eight-in-ten say economic conditions are good, up 19 percentage points since immediately before the 2014 election. And the share of adults who say the economy is very good (30%) has tripled in the past three years.
Overall, seven-in-ten Indians are now satisfied with the way things are going in the country. This positive assessment of India’s direction has nearly doubled since 2014.
At least seven-in-ten Indians approve of how he has helped the poor and handled unemployment, terrorism and corruption. Approval in these four areas is up 10 points or more since 2016.
It remains to be seen if Standard and Poor’s and Fitch, the other two big ratings services, will follow Moody’s path on the $2 trillion economy India, or when. But the Indian government is not complaining.
Moody’s said in a press release: “While India’s high debt burden remains a constraint on the country’s credit profile, Moody’s believes that the reforms put in place have reduced the risk of a sharp increase in debt, even in potential downside scenarios.”
Moody’s move “is an overdue correction,” said Modi’s Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, to Bloomberg. “This is a recognition of India’s macro economic reforms. But it has also to be kept in mind that these are external factors. And the government will pursue its own reform agenda. And those will drive our economic development.”
The government has also won praise from ratings firms for a $32 billion program to recapitalize banks that economists say will revive lending and stoke demand on the ground, reported Bloomberg.
Moody’s forecasts India’s GDP growth of 6.7 percent for the fiscal year through March 2018, with a pick up to 7.5 percent in the following year and “similarly robust” levels from 2019 onward.
As soon as the news hit the bourses, of India’s upgrade to Baa2 from Baa3, Rupee, bonds and stocks rallied.
The University of Michigan too timed the release of their study, to perfection, giving insight to India’s most popular leader, his way of shaming the opposition and detractors on twitter, while shoring up and building his own base of supporters.
“Modi’s irony provides a form of political spectacle and resonated on social media as shown by high retweeting of his sarcastically worded messages,” said Joyojeet Pal, assistant professor of information, at the university, after he and his team analyzed more than 9,000 tweets by Modi (@narendramodi) over a six-year period.
The researchers coded the tweets into nine broad themes: cricket, Rahul Gandhi, entertainment, sarcasm, corruption, development, foreign affairs, Hinduism, and science and technology.
After coding, they found that sarcastic tweets were closely concentrated around election and campaigning cycles.
In many of Modi’s tweets during national elections, he referred to the main opposition party as corrupt and Gandhi as “Rahul Baba” or “Shahzada (prince).”
By using humor and sarcasm, Modi was signaling that the Congress party was not in touch with its roots and letting his own followers get the inside joke, the researchers said.
Here is an example of a Modi tweet, which garnered 2,545 retweets: “The way Rahul Baba is making statements with a dash of comedy in them, I think the TV show of Kapil Sharma may soon have to shut shop.”
“There are plenty of attacks, rhetoric, cleverly worded jibes and jokes,” Pal said. “The power of Modi’s message is in the juxtaposition of his past as a train station tea-seller alongside his present as a selfie-clicking leader of a strong aspirational but fundamentally nationalist state. Sarcasm is as much a message from Modi as it is a message about him.”
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: email@example.com Follow him on twitter @SujeetRajan1)