Rarely in history does a nation go through directly contradictory impulses and emotions at the same time: exultation and horror; celebration and mourning. That sums up what happened with India 75 years ago when it won freedom from British rule but was also partitioned on religious lines as two nations- India and Pakistan (Bangladesh becoming another nation in 1971). It is time to take stock after 75 years; to reflect, introspect and look ahead even while revisiting the past. The Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and CVoter Foundation spearheaded a unique survey-based research project where citizens of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were asked to give their opinions on a series of questions that
dealt with the political, economic, social, and religious issues of the past, present and future. CVoter conducted this pioneering survey across the three countries in 15 languages between May and September 2022.
The first report released through this collaborative effort reveals the responses of Indian citizens. Some broad stroke conclusions can be summarized as:
- Most Indians think that the country has performed better than expected over several parameters. More than two out of every three Indians think the country has done better than expected in science and technology, national security and infrastructure. The percentage drops significantly to 54 and 51 respectively for the status of minorities and economic growth. The survey shows that most Indians consider corruption (59 per cent) and poverty (56 per cent) as serious challenges to the Indian polity, with 45 per cent picking dynasticism in politics as an area of serious concern. Increasing religious polarization is another important challenge.
- The ghosts of Partition, a series of wars, and frequent terror attacks have hardened the opinion of most Indians when it comes to Pakistan. Two-thirds of the respondents during the survey saw no scope for any improvement in relations between the two countries in this decade. Besides, just 17 per cent of Indians think Pakistan has performed better than expected. Very few Indians trust Pakistan. The survey shows just 14 per cent think our estranged neighbour can be trusted. In sharp contrast, 60 per cent of Indians think our other neighbour, Bangladesh, can be trusted. Besides, one-third of Indians think Bangladesh has performed better than expected, and 38 percent feel it can emerge as the most prosperous south Asian country.
- A clear majority of Indians seem convinced that the economic prospects of the country are brighter, albeit with some major differences across categories. More than 50 per cent of upper-caste Hindus, scheduled tribes, and other backward castes are confident of better economic prospects for India in the next few years. The optimism drops somewhat to 45 percent in the case of scheduled castes. It turns to pessimism in the case of Muslims with 53 per cent saying economic prospects for the country will be worse. But there is a seeming contradiction when it comes to the economic prospects of their families. Large proportions of Muslims (43 per cent) are confident their family’s economic prospects in the next few years will be better. This could be an interesting issue to be examined in more detail.
- Contemporary media is often awash with reports of how more than a million Indians have applied for 100 class C or D government jobs. It has become almost a norm for politicians to promise a surfeit of government jobs during election campaigns. In a country marked with high unemployment and underemployment, the obsession with a government job and the income security it guarantees is to be expected. Yet, the survey reveals many more Indians seem to prefer starting their own business or being self-employed than opting for a government job. The only category of Indians with a higher preference for government jobs are the ones with higher education. This is a surprising result that needs deeper study.
- The survey reinforces long-held inferences by scholars and commentators that India remains a deeply conservative and patriarchal society. Women in India still do not enjoy the full range of freedoms that their male counterparts do. The survey reveals that 62 per cent of Indians think women need permission from male members to take up a job. Similarly, 64 per cent need permission from male members of the family to attend a political meeting or rally. More than 50 per cent need male approval to go out shopping and take household savings decisions. Even when it comes to wearing clothes, one-third need male approval. The percentage of women needing male approval goes down as one goes up the education ladder. Nevertheless, Indian women show aspirational tendencies as far as the political arena is concerned. India remains patriarchal, and true gender equality remains a goal.
- Respondents were questioned to find out the level and extent of trust they have in various institutions. Predictably, the armed forces emerge as the most trusted institution with 93 per cent of Indians thinking so. Perhaps equally predictably, bureaucracy emerges as the least trusted institution with 53 per cent of the respondents backing it. Surprisingly, the media emerges as the second-least trusted institution with 59 per cent of the respondents saying they trust it. That is even less than the 60 per cent score for the police. Perhaps it is also time for some introspection for the fourth pillar of democracy as the level of trust in media institutions remains modest. On the positive side, Indians display far more trust in institutions than their peers in most other countries.