The Ratings Game
A recent poll survey by C-Voter showed PM Narendra Modi’s popularity had dipped in the last two months to 36%. As Yashwant Deshmukh, Director C-Voter explained on NewsX-The Sunday Guardian Roundtable, the PM’s ratings had been averaging at about 50% during the last six years, reaching a high of 70%. Interestingly, the highest was in March last year when the PM asked us all to lockdown, for that was a time when strong, assertive leaders were feted across the globe. So what has changed between then and now? Deshmukh says that he can pinpoint when the slip happened, on 6 April, when all the other state polls were done except West Bengal. This was a time when cases were rising in India. But the PM continued with the rallies. This sent a message that he was more interested in the party than the government. As Suhel Seth, columnist and commentator, said on the same show, the BJP has been better at elections and the Congress better at governance. Sanjay Kumar, Director CSDS, added that another reason for the anger could be that when people were dying due to lack of medicines, hospital beds and O2, BJP spokesmen were claiming that there were no shortages. Reality was otherwise. But the C-Voter poll also showed that while Modi’s ratings fell, there was no corresponding rise in the Opposition ratings. This was unlike what happened during the UPA when a fall in then PM Manmohan Singh’s ratings saw a rise in Modi’s graph. In fact, the Number 2 vote went to the “Don’t Know Can’t Say” category. (This incidentally is a category that has thrown up many surprise Prime Ministerial faces—from Morarji Desai, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral to Manmohan Singh. And some of these have run very successful governments). Interestingly, the C-Voter poll now shows that ever since PM’s “reappearance”, the fall in his ratings has plateaued out. This led Shankkar Aiyar, author of The Gated Republic, to comment, “Has Modi fallen between perception and expectations?”
The Cabinet Reshuffle
All of a sudden the buzz around a cabinet reshuffle has gained ground in the capital. Much of this has to do with Covid damage control,as political pundits claim that in order to regain the optics, the PM will have to make a change at the Health Ministry. Will Dr Harsh Vardhan be shifted out? The grapevine has him being replaced by Dr Devi Shetty, who has of late been defending the government against those who attack it on Covid mismanagement. But is the need of the hour a medical doctor or an able administrator, someone who can streamline relief and resources? There is also Jyotiraditya Scindia, waiting conspicuously on the sidelines for his ministerial berth, which is rumoured to have been promised to him when he switched over. Will he be given a Cabinet post or be made Minister of State, albeit with Independent charge (a post that he has earlier held in the Congress). The obvious names who could be accommodated include Sarbananda Sonowal, the former Assam Chief Minister who needs a consolation prize. Another not so assured entry is that of Sushil Modi, who needs to be accommodated, but his proximity to JD(U) leader and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar may lose him the seat at the table. It would also be interesting to see if Devendra Fadnavis makes the cut, for he is said to be out of favour with the Home Minister, Amit Shah. However, no one knows for sure as to whether the PM is even contemplating a reshuffle or not. But if there was ever a time for a reshuffle to fix the performance of the Modi Cabinet, it is now.
The Credit Game
Last fortnight M.L. Khattar the Haryana Chief Minister inaugurated a 500-bed (temporary) hospital in Hisar for Covid patients. The hospital was named after Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala’s great-grandfather, Ch Devi Lal. So far, the story seems par for the course. But what is interesting is that the hospital was inaugurated on the premises of Jindal Model School, owned by the O.P. Jindal family, yet the state government did not invite any member of the family, not even Naveen Jindal, Congress leader and former MP from Kurukshetra. This despite the fact that the oxygen for the hospital is coming from the Jindals’ steel plant in Odisha. In fact, during the crisis the Jindal family has been providing oxygen to the state from their steel plants. It may be good politics, but one does wonder about the optics.
During Rahul Gandhi’s press conference recently it was noticed that he singled out Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel for praise repeatedly, mentioning Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot once, while Captain Amarinder Singh did not find a single mention (the Congress has CMs in only three states). This could be bad news for T.S. Singh Deo, Chhattisgarh Health Minister, who was in the running for Chief Ministership. In fact, earlier there was talk of a rotational chief ministership between the two, but Baghel’s rising graph seems to have put an end to that speculation.