NEW YORK – It’s going to be a tumultuous summer in India. General elections and cricket World Cup around the corner. IPL is underway. Poll fervor rising in tenor to a crescendo. It doesn’t get any better than this if you are a gambling man or not, as more than 900 million people in 700,000 villages and hundreds of towns get ready to experience a frenzy combining sports and politics like no other on Earth.
Every day brings some new words to express elation and surprise, deflate norms, create controversies. Makes headlines. My favorites from this week: ‘Mankading’ and ‘Remonetization’.
As India gets enveloped in this manic frenzy of elections which happens once every five years, Pew Research Center has come up with their conclusions from two surveys conducted last year which sheds light on how adults in India see their elected officials and their democracy – as well as how they feel about the spread of misinformation via mobile technology.
Despite the euphoria, five key findings released this week include the conclusion that most Indian adults see politicians as corrupt and question whether elections are effective. About two-thirds (64%) say most politicians are corrupt, including 43% who very intensely hold this view, according to a spring 2018 survey by the Center.
Notably, nearly seven-in-ten supporters of the two major parties contesting the election – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Indian National Congress party – share the view that most elected leaders are corrupt (69% in each party say this). On a related question, only a third of Indians think elected officials care about the opinions of ordinary people in their country, said Pew.
And while expectation is building up ahead of polls, there is also a sense of resignation that this is just a charade to preserve democracy. According to Pew, 58% of adults in India say that no matter who wins an election, things do not change very much. This again includes a majority of both BJP and Congress supporters.
However, a little over half of Indian adults (54%) are satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country, but a third are dissatisfied, according to the survey. Men are more likely than women to give Indian democracy a thumbs-up, though one-in-five women decline to offer an opinion. Satisfaction with the state of India’s democracy also differs by party affiliation: three-quarters of BJP supporters are satisfied, compared with only 42% of Congress adherents.
While the surveys were done well before the Pulwama attack, and India’s retaliatory action in Pakistan, the latter is always seen as a burgeoning threat by discerning Indians.
Indians largely view Pakistan as a threat and believe the situation in Kashmir warrants more military force, said the survey. In Pew’s spring survey last year, 76% of Indians said Pakistan is a major threat to their country, including 63% who said it is a very serious threat. This view was shared by people in rural areas and urban centers, supporters of both the prime minister’s BJP and the Congress party, as well as Indians across age groups. Additionally, 65% said terrorism is a very big problem in India.
When asked specifically about Kashmir, a majority of Indians (55%) see the situation there as a very big problem. More than half (53%) say circumstances in Kashmir have gotten worse over the last five years, and a majority (58%) believes the Indian government should use more military force than it uses currently in dealing with tensions in the area.
On the technology front, many Indians are using mobile phones to get news, but the public is divided over how these devices have influenced politics. About eight-in-ten Indian adults say they own or share a mobile phone, and most of these users (81%) say their phone has helped them obtain information and news about important issues, according to a separate 2018 survey. However, Indians have mixed attitudes about mobile phones’ overall impact on politics, according to Pew.
About four-in-ten say the increasing use of mobile phones has had a good influence on politics. Indians feel similarly about the impact of the internet on politics: Again, about four-in-ten say it has had a good influence. However, only a minority of Indians (38%) currently go online.
In the age of news and fake news spreading within minutes globally through social media, partisanship plays a role in public opinion of the impact of mobile technology, says Pew.
The surveys conclude that adults who support Modi’s BJP are more likely to say mobile phones have had a good influence on politics (49%) than those who support the Congress party (33%).
Roughly three-in-four Indians (77%) say they are very or somewhat concerned about people being exposed to false or incorrect information when they use their mobile phones, including 45% who are very concerned. Similar shares of both BJP and Congress supporters say they are very concerned.
Of the seven social media and messaging apps included in the survey, WhatsApp and Facebook are the most widely used in India – although relatively modest shares of Indian adults (29% and 24%, respectively) report currently using them. While this means majority of Indians do not use these apps, the 1.35 billion-person country still has the largest number of WhatsApp and Facebook users in the world, the report noted.
Quartz noted this week that voter turnout in its last elections, in 2014, was 66%, and this time too, it would over around the same mark.
‘Whether at the top of the Himalayas or in the middle of a forest, it (Indian government) ensures no one has to travel over 2 km (about 1.2 miles) to get to the polls. It even has a budget for elephants to carry machines to hard-to-reach areas,’ said Quartz.
It remains to be seen if voters of India will choose to extend another term to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the NDA government, or go with the vision of opposition parties.
Till the results are in on May 23, nobody will know for sure.
A week later, the World Cup will begin. India will cheer again.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)