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REUTERS/K. K. Arora
Tall promises.
BREAD, CIRCUSES, AND TERRORISTS

Here are the issues Indian voters actually cared about—until Pulwama happened

By Kuwar Singh

Jobs were on top of voters’ minds before national security came to dominate campaigning during India’s ongoing election.

Along with basic necessities such as primary healthcare and drinking water, employment was the top priority for Indians, according to a survey of over 273,000 voters across the country held between October and December 2018 by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a New Delhi-based non-profit.

With 31 governance issues to choose from, voters gave the second-last priority to action against terrorism, which scored ahead only of concerns around encroachment of public lands and lakes.

However, prime minister Narendra Modi has made national security a central theme of his campaign for re-election. Though the opposition has tried cornering him on rising unemployment, along with all other matters of public concern, the debate on jobs too has taken a backseat.

Cloudy turnaround 

National security came centre stage due to the events that took place after the ADR survey.

On Feb. 14, a suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden SUV into a convoy of paramilitary troops in Pulwama district of the northern Jammu & Kashmir state. The bomber was affiliated to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a UN-designated terrorist group based in Pakistan. 

On Feb. 26, India conducted an air strike in the northern town of Balakot in Pakistan. Though most accounts say the strike missed its target, Modi back home cited it as an example of his strong and decisive approach to national security. 

As public concern around terrorism spiked after the Pulwama bombing, Modi’s approval ratings also got a boost, according to New Delhi-based polling agency CVoter. Since then, however, the rise has partly subsided. 

The political astuteness of Modi’s decision to veer the campaign towards national security may only become clear on May 23, when India counts the votes and declares a winner of the election. 

C-minus government

For each of the governance issues the ADR survey asked them about, voters characterised the Modi government’s performance as  ”below average.”

Incidentally, their score for the government’s performance on terrorism was 1.15 out of 5, the second-lowest among all the issues.

Public issueGovernment’s performance
EmploymentBelow average
Primary healthcareBelow average
Drinking waterBelow average
RoadsBelow average
Public transportBelow average
Water availability for irrigationBelow average
Agricultural loan availabilityBelow average
Fair prices for farm produceBelow average
Seed/fertiliser subsidy for farmersBelow average
Law and order/policingBelow average
TerrorismBelow average