Despite the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s claim that India’s international reputation has improved significantly under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a new study has found that global audiences view the country much less favourably than before he came to power in 2014.

Eighty nine percent of the people in the United States, the United Kingdom and France in a survey conducted by polling and advisory firm GlobeScan from March 29 to April 8 said that they think it is important for India to protect human rights and democracy if their countries are to strengthen ties with New Delhi.

Nearly 90% of those surveyed supported human rights as a prerequisite for their country’s industrial and other commercial investments in India.

Out of those surveyed in the three countries, 90% expressed concern at the Indian government’s alleged attempt to assassinate citizens of the United States and Canada on home soil. Further, three in every four respondents said that they are concerned about the new laws that would make it harder for Muslims to become citizens in India, referring to the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The Act is aimed to provide a fast track to citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities, except Muslims, from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and have entered the country by December 31, 2014. The law was passed by Parliament in late 2019 but implemented in March.

The study titled “The Modi Mirage”, released on Tuesday, had been authored by academics from the Groningen University in The Netherlands, London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies in collaboration with not-for-profit Friends of Democracy.

The survey also found that just 10% of the respondents viewed Modi favourably in the United Kingdom and 22% in the US. The figure dropped to 9% among younger respondents in the United States.

According to YouGov polling data from March, which was also cited in the report, Modi is neither well known nor popular in the United States and the United Kingdom. The survey also showed that in the US and the UK, Modi ranks below highly disliked leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

YouGov is a British Internet-based market research firm.

The report also cited Platform for Indian Democracy’s findings that 52% of British Indian respondents held an unfavourable view of Modi, compared to 35% who viewed him favourably.

“Modi is right to emphasise that India’s reputation overseas is critical to its economic and geopolitical interests,” said Professor Irfan Nooruddin from Georgetown University, one of the report’s authors. “But our research shows he is wrong to suggest that he has improved it. In fact, the data reveal that India’s declining performance on human rights and democracy is demonstrably hurting its interests.”

The report said that a combination of press censorship and coercion, and increasing levels of disinformation pushed out across social media can be credited for widespread perception that Modi has “dramatically enhanced” India’s standing and respect on the world stage.

“Insiders report a close direction of the narratives of leading media outlets from the Prime Minister’s Office, with special attention paid to stories that portray Modi’s role in international affairs,” the report said. “This direction may for a time have influenced global coverage as well, as media houses often took cues from their Delhi correspondents, who were influenced by the national media environment.”

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