India is in crisis. Its economy has crashed, with the largest slump on record decimating millions of jobs. Its already fragile healthcare system is buckling under the weight of soaring coronavirus cases. With more than 5 million cases, India ranks only behind the United States for confirmed infections.

But whereas other populist leaders are feeling the political heat from their handling of the pandemic — US President Donald Trump and his British counterpart Boris Johnson, for instance –Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has largely escaped the scathing headlines and crushing opinion polls that have beleaguered his counterparts.

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 andis 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.

Coronavirus challenge: 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.

But his second-term aspirations to revitalize the economy now seem more distant than ever due to the pandemic. As it continues to batter the Indian economy, analysts says it’s unclear if the populist leader can emerge politically unscathed.

Source : CNN

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