NEW YORK - A week before their parliamentary election that will determine a new prime minister, Indians are deeply dissatisfied with the direction of their country and overwhelmingly want a change in leadership in New Delhi, according to a new US poll released Monday.

The Pew Research Center's survey also said Indians dislike and fear Pakistan, but they want to try to improve relations. It found that Indians favour the main opposition group, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, to the ruling Indian National Congress by a ratio of more than 3 to 1. The BJP’s strong showing rests on the perception that it would do a better job combating the country’s range of woes including corruption, unemployment, inflation and political deadlock, the survey said.

The findings bolster the sense of inevitability that is beginning to envelop Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate who currently is the chief minister of western state of Gujarat. Although Modi has long faced accusations of being complicit in the deadly anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, he has recast himself as a clean, business-friendly politician whose state has posted impressive economic growth.

Seven-in-ten (71%) have an unfavourable view of Pakistan, the survey said. And roughly nine-in-ten Indians think Pakistan is a serious threat to their country, with fully 80% saying it is a very serious threat. Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds (64%) say that it is important to improve relations with Islamabad. And 53% favour further talks between India and Pakistan to try to reduce tensions.

Pew, a Washington-based public opinion research centre, surveyed 2,464 Indian adults in December and January in 15 of the country’s 17 most populous states.

Nearly eight in 10 Indians surveyed held a favourable view of Modi, while only 50% felt the same way about his rival, Congress Party standard-bearer Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Jawaharlal Nehru-Indira Gandhi dynasty that has led India for most of its history since independence in 1947. This and other polls suggest the Congress Party may suffer its worst-ever showing in the parliamentary elections that begin April 7 and run into mid-May.

Dogged by corruption scandals and flagging economic growth, the Congress Party has relied on support from rural Indians, whom it has boosted with food subsidies and entitlement schemes. But in a troubling sign for the party, more than half of those Pew surveyed said that the BJP would do a better job than Congress in aiding the poor.

If Modi comes to power in India, the world’s 10th largest economy, it would create some problems also for the United States, which until recently had observed an official boycott of the firebrand leader and had denied him a visa due to his alleged role in the 2002 violence.

In February, the US ambassador to New Delhi, Nancy Powell, broke the chill by requesting a meeting with Modi in his home state. State Department officials described the encounter as cordial, but many within the US government still regard Modi with suspicion.

US business leaders, including companies such as Ford and General Motors, which have built plants in Gujarat, are said to be broadly supportive of a Modi prime ministership. Ultimately, his supporters say, a stronger Indian economy is in the United States’ best interest.

Seven of 10 Indians surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country, although a strong majority, 62%, said they expected the economy to improve over the next year. Young Indians, having come of age over the past decade in which the country doubled per capita income, are more optimistic about their economic prospects than those 50 and older, Pew found.

The survey also found that despite a recent rupture in bilateral relations following the arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat in New York, 56% of Indians view the United States favourably – a number comparable to pro-US sentiments Pew recorded in Great Britain and Germany.

A plurality of those surveyed held an unfavourable view of China, India’s Asian rival, with nearly two-thirds saying that China’s growing military might was a problem for India.

Indians despair about their nation’s direction but they still have hope for the economy, according to Pew survey. By more than two-to-one Indians think India is headed in the wrong direction. But a majority (57%) say the economy is good, despite slow growth. Six-in-ten (62%) expect the economy to improve in the next 12 months. And 64% think today’s children will be better off as adults than the current generation.

Indians have a more favourable view of the US (56%) than of China (35%), despite the controversial arrest of the Indian diplomat in New York on charges of visa fraud. By two-to-one, Indians are more likely to see China, not the United States, as a major threat. And by more than four-to-one they say it is more important to have strong ties with America than with China.