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Only the US has more coronavirus cases than India. But unlike Trump, its leader seems immune from criticism

September 17, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Modi is seen by many as a "national messiah" who is working on a grander agenda to reshape the Indian nation along Hindu lines, and is not accountable for day-to-day government failures, say analysts.

Modi's landslide re-election for a second five-year term last year gave him a sweeping mandate to push his Hindu nationalist agenda, in a country where 80% of the population is Hindu.

Asim Ali, a researcher at the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think-tank, said the Indian leader is seen as a "national messiah" who is working on a grander agenda to reshape the Indian nation and is not accountable for day-to-day government failures.

"Modi has staked out for himself the role of not just the political leader of India, but also its social, moral and spiritual leader, in the mold of Mahatma Gandhi," Ali said.

Over the past year, Modi has made steady headway on Hindu nationalist policies, from revoking the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, to backing a controversial citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims.

"You have seen how the most powerful nations have become helpless in the face of this pandemic," Modi said in a live televised address to the nation, as he announced the lockdown, warning that India could be set back decades if the outbreak was not dealt with properly.

By taking drastic action early, Modi reaffirmed his image as a decisive leader who is able to take strict, politically tough measures for the sake of the country, said Ali, the researcher at the Center Policy Research.

"A few days of advance notice would not have hurt the lockdown, but would've helped small traders plan their stocks, helped people get to places where they could be prepared to stay for a longer period of time, and big companies to shift to alternative ways of working," said Laxminarayan.

India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said Monday the lockdown was a "bold" decision that had prevented as many as 78,000 deaths.

"Television news stations rarely cover India's crumbling health infrastructure in the face of the fast spreading pandemic," Ali said.

While some Indians may not blame Modi for the escalating coronavirus outbreak, experts warned that the economic fallout of the pandemic could eventually cost Modi politically.

"Modi has consistently presented himself to the Indian electorate as a 'development messiah,' who will somehow transform India through his leadership from a low income developing country to some kind of a socially and economically advanced country," said Sumantra Bose, a political scientist at the London School of Economics.

When Modi was first elected in 2014, he promised to overhaul India's economy and create millions of jobs for young people.

Weeks after assuming office, the Modi government pledged to turn India into a 5-trillion-dollar economy in five years.

This week, global rating agency Moody's projected India's economy would contract 11. 5% this financial year, down from the 4% forecast in July, citing the severe impact of the lockdown and the continued surge in coronavirus cases.

But Bose said Modi's nationalist policies ultimately won't be enough to distract people from the reality of the economic crisis for long.

But Modi and his BJP will soon face a litmus test on their popular support -- the upcoming legislative assembly elections in the eastern state of Bihar, home to millions of migrant workers who were deeply affected by the lockdown and economic nosedive.

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