FILE PHOTO - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi participates in the opening session of the 15th ASEAN-India Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila, Philippines, November 14, 2017 Reuters/Ezra Acayan/Pool(reuters_tickers)
By Sanjeev Miglani
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Nearly nine out of 10 Indians hold a favourable opinion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and more than two-thirds are satisfied with the direction he is taking the country, a Pew survey has found, two years before he heads into a general election.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition won the biggest parliamentary majority in three decades in a 2014 election and the poll by the U.S.-based research centre showed that his personal ratings remain high.
Critics have accused hardline Hindu groups linked to the ruling coalition of promoting a partisan agenda, including targeting minority Muslims, since he came to power.
They have also blamed Modi for slowing economic growth and for failing to generate the hundreds of thousands of jobs needed for young people joining the workforce each month.
But the Pew poll found that 88 percent of Indians held a favourable view of Modi, a shade higher than the 87 percent who gave him a thumbs-up in 2015, a year after he swept to power promising to transform India into a high-growth economy.
Such high ratings are unusual for political leaders three years into office in south Asia, where governments are more often voted out than retained as people become frustrated with broken campaign promises.
Modi's favourable rating is 31 percentage points higher than that of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress party, and is 30 points more than that for her son, Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to take over the party leadership.
"Three years into Modi’s five-year tenure, the honeymoon period for his administration may be over but the public’s love affair with current conditions in India is even more intense," Pew said in comments on its findings.
The survey was conducted in February and March, a few months after Modi withdrew most high-value bank notes in a shock move aimed at illegal wealth, but which put millions of people in difficulty as cash was sucked out of the economy.
Modi defended the measure as an attack on the rich hiding their wealth from the taxman and said gains would come to the poor.
Economic growth eased to a three-year low in the June quarter and experts said part of the reason was that the withdrawal of most of the currency had hurt consumer demand in a largely cash-driven economy.
A poorly implemented goods-and-services tax that went into effect in July has further unsettled small businesses, many of which are part of the bedrock of the BJP's political base.
But the poll found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed said economic conditions were good, up 19 percentage points since just before the 2014 election.
"Overall, seven-in-ten Indians are now satisfied with the way things are going in the country. This positive assessment of India’s direction has nearly doubled since 2014," Pew said.
The next general election is due in 2019.
But several states are voting for new assemblies over the next few months including Modi's home state of Gujarat.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)