Last year, when Narendra Modi was announced as his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate for Indian national elections coming up this spring, most political observers expected the controversial pol’s role in Gujarat state’s 2002 anti-Muslim riots to sink him — or at least prevent any kind of sweeping victory. After all, Modi was seen as practicing a divisive brand of Hindu nationalism that simply doesn’t line up with the ideology of the incumbent Congress Party or outgoing P.M. Manmohan Singh, who have dominated national politics in recent years. But the latest poll numbers from Pew Research Center show that Modi has not only cleared the acceptability threshold, wiping away concerns about his past, but with a 78 percent favorable rating and 63 percent of voters hoping to see BJP win this spring’s elections, it looks increasingly plausible his forces will win an outright majority, or at least cruise to a decisive win with the support of a few minor, regional coalition partners.
VISUAL CONTEXT: Modi and other national Indian political figures’ favorability
Now, this is largely a function of Congress’ support plummeting: 70 percent of those polled do not approve of how things are going now, and Modi and the BJP represent the most visible alternative. But these kinds of favorable numbers suggest Modi has actually rehabbed his image, or at least fleshed it out for those who knew little about him. His constant invocations of the economic success Gujarat state has enjoyed have made for a winning national message, with the weak economy and graft at the top of most voters’ minds. Winning support across the country, and not just in his own strongholds, would help Modi not only with the parliamentary math of forming a coalition but when it comes to his credibility as a unifying national figure throughout the region and world. If foreign leaders suspected his government was a house of cards that would collapse as soon as Muslims, who comprise about 14 percent of the Indian population, got organized, one suspects they would not do much business with him. If the BJP’s Muslim outreach pays dividends and Modi doesn’t get killed among that demographic, however, world leaders from Washington (which has essentially already gotten on the Modi bandwagon) to Islamabad would have to take notice.
So while there is certainly still time for Congress (or other anti-graft and regional) parties to make up ground and even force their way into Modi’s coalition, it looks increasingly unlikely he will suffer some kind of disastrous collapse, and virtually certain that he will be a player on the world stage for years to come