PM Modi's rating falls to new low as India reels from COVID-19

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FILE PHOTO: India's PM Modi addresses a gathering before flagging off the "Dandi March", in Ahmedabad

By Sanjeev Miglani and Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's approval ratings have fallen to a new low, two surveys showed, as the country struggles to contain a devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Modi, who swept to power in 2014 and was re-elected in 2019 with the biggest majority of any Indian politician in three decades, has long fostered the image of a powerful nationalist leader.

But India's COVID-19 caseload surged past 25 million this week, exposing a lack of preparation and eroding Modi's support base, according to U.S. data intelligence company Morning Consult's tracker of a dozen global leaders.

Modi's overall ratings this week stand at 63%, his lowest since the U.S. firm began tracking his popularity in August 2019. The big decline happened in April when his net approval dropped 22 points. https://morningconsult.com/form/global-leader-approval

Another survey by Indian polling agency CVOTER found the number of respondents "very much satisfied" with Modi's performance had dropped to 37% from around 65% a year ago.

For the first time in seven years, respondents expressing dissatisfaction with the Modi government's performance outnumbered those satisfied with it, CVOTER data shows.

"The prime minister is facing the biggest political challenge of his career," CVOTER founder Yashwant Deshmukh told Reuters.

(GRAPHIC - Narendra Modi's approval ratings: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/INDIA-MODI/qmyvmeqjevr/chart.png)

The sharp fall in popularity comes as the pandemic appeared to be overwhelming large urban centres such as Delhi, where hospitals ran out of beds and life-saving oxygen. Bodies piled up in morgues and crematoriums and anger grew on social media over the suffering and perceived lack of government support.

The situation has since eased in Delhi and Mumbai as cases have fallen but the virus has penetrated deep into India's vast hinterland where public health facilities are weaker.

"The people of India — or at least the vast majority — have... come to the conclusion that they have to rely only on themselves, and their families and friends, to protect their lives," said P. Chidambaram, an opposition leader.

"In the battle against COVID-19, the state, especially the central government, has withered away," he said.

Modi's government has said it is doing its best to tackle the "coronavirus storm", calling it a once-in-a-century crisis.

Despite the slide in his approval ratings, Modi remains the country's most popular politician, with the opposition unable to capitalise on the government's bungled response to the pandemic, CVOTER data shows.

Modi does not face a national election until 2024.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Gareth Jones and Kim Coghill)