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 2,73,000 voters across the country conducted in October-December 2018 by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a 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.
National security took centrestage because of events that took place after the survey.
On February 14, a suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a convoy of paramilitary soldiers in Pulwama, Kashmir. He was affiliated to the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad.
On February 26, India conducted an air strike in the northern town of Balakot in Pakistan. Though most accounts say the strike missed its target, Modi cited it as an example of his strong and decisive approach to national security.
As public concern around terrorism spiked after the Pulwama attack, Modi’s approval ratings got a boost, according to the 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.
For each of the governance issues the Association for Democratic Reforms asked them about for its survey, 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.
This article first appeared on Quartz.