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Home / Politics / News /  India@75 special: A portrait of the evolving Indian

As independent India turns 75, its citizens are more aspirational than ever before. They hope for, and actively seek, a prosperous future—and are getting confident about it. But on the way lies a confusing melting pot of political, social and economic beliefs that they must contend with to lead India into the future. What form of welfare will get the work done? Which policies will click better? Who is the right leader? How should a democracy itself be?

But before that, do we even agree on which are the biggest issues India faces?

It was in this backdrop that Mint set out to conduct its biannual survey of urban India in association with survey partner YouGov India and the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR). We asked respondents to reflect on their individual freedoms, economic well-being, and outlook for the economy and policy making. We also asked them to assess historical icons and reveal their political underpinnings. Since a large section (62%) of our respondents were born in the 1990s or after, the findings largely represent the views of the young India that will lead us into the future.

Check Out Our Special Coverage on India@75

The survey, now in its eighth round, was conducted in June and July, and had 10,271 respondents across 204 cities and towns.

Here’s what we found.

Strand of hope

For Indians, hope is not an emotion, but a life skill. For two years, job losses, pay cuts and high cost of living have kept millions on the edge. A tragic spell of disease and destruction last summer upended lives for many. Yet, when we asked our respondents where they saw their family financially a few years from now, even the poorest saw light at the end of the tunnel (read part 1 here: “Taking India and self forward").

Taking India and self forward
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Taking India and self forward

Over 61% of the respondents said they expected their family’s economic well-being to be “much better" or “a little better" in a few years. The share was the least—but still above 50%—for low earners, and the highest for high earners. However, personal hope doesn’t align with hope for the country. Most were not aware of the government’s goal to make India a $5-trillion economy, and among those who were, 56% did not see the target being met before 2028 (the official estimate is 2027). But does it even matter? Well, it does, but more for the rich. Among the poorest, as many as 27% don’t see as much personal benefit from a rising economy as the harm that a slowing one leaves upon them.

Yet, in the aspirational India of 2022, most respondents, even among the low-earning group, would be willing to trade a pay-raise for stability and happiness, the survey found (read part 2 here: “Looking for happiness and freedom"). Surprising as it is, this may be stemming from a great deal of satisfaction with the present life. A large chunk are fairly satisfied with their family and social life, and almost 67% think their individual freedoms have somewhat increased over the past decade. Is there more freedom to be attained? Yes, and a better career is the most desired gateway to unlock that independence.

Looking for happiness and freedom
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Looking for happiness and freedom

Policy conundrum

The magic formula to take India to glory and prosperity has eluded all governments so far. But trust Indian voters to know what’s best for them. So we gave them seven pairs of policy choices, and asked them to pick the one they felt the government should prioritize.

The ministers vowing to build Shanghais and Londons in India may be in for a shock. Nearly 74% respondents would rather have sustainable development of rural India than large global cities (read part 3 here: “Making India a better place"). Welfare measures such as free healthcare and education for the poor, more government jobs for the youth, and a goal of narrowing income inequality found favour from the majority. However, for over half, the government should rather reduce income taxes than give away cash transfers to the poor. Caste reservations were not too popular: nearly two-thirds would rather have them out than be extended to private sector jobs, particularly older Indians.

Making India a better place
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Making India a better place

The political Indian

The hope that Indians carry in their survival kit rests on some pillars, and one of them, increasingly, seems to be politics. Partisanship is rising, and it’s shaping relationships, and even the perception of democracy and how good a government is performing (read part 4 here: “Wearing politics on the sleeve").

This means more Indians now feel excessively attached to their favourite political party. When the favourite party happens to be the ruling party for a large chunk (as it is now), it means life comes with a large dose of hope and cheer. (We measured this by asking respondents a bunch of questions about how they feel when someone criticizes or praises their favourite party.)

Wearing politics on the sleeve
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Wearing politics on the sleeve

Indians hold their friendships, marriages and immediate relations close to their politics. A majority of the strong partisans reported facing a strain in relationships due to political disagreements in recent years.

The partisanship is centred around the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). One-third of those who oppose it feel the democracy is declining, while the BJP supporters feel otherwise—one of many pieces of evidence of polarized views in today’s politics.

India’s founding leaders are not immune from this political divide. The survey asked respondents to rate the role of five historical leaders in India’s freedom struggle and nation-building. Most rated the five highly, across party lines. But the differences emerged on the assessment whether they were credited adequately for that role: Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi came out as overrated, while Vallabhbhai Patel and Subhas Bose as underrated. The key distinguishing factor? Party loyalty (read part 5 here: “Leaders of history").

Leaders of history
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Leaders of history

The founding leaders find themselves dwarfed by the popularity of the current prime minister, Narendra Modi, whose undeniable influence is defining a new generation of political Indians who are fearless to junk the past in favour of the present. Nehru was the top pick as PM for 19% Indians and A.B. Vajpayee for 16%. Modi got 26% votes (read part 6 here: “The Modi era").

The Modi era
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The Modi era

But the responses have a partisan lens writ large. Modi’s popularity is largely concentrated among BJP supporters, while Nehru’s cuts across party lines (barring the BJP). The prime minister is overwhelmingly seen as focused on big businesses and Hindus and less on Muslims and the poor, perhaps a commentary on how Modi has fared on his promise of inclusive governance.

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Being a citizen of the world’s largest democracy was a weighty business from the word go. Rebuilding India’s lost glory was both a personal and political task. For 75 years, Indians have carried that responsibility with grit: mostly with anxiety, often in distress, but always with hope.

Today, as the democracy ages and demography gets younger, a new generation is changing the rules. The distress is fading out, the grit is giving way to élan and the anxiety to creativity, while the hope stays. The personal is political for more and more Indians, and they are ready to redefine politics and policy, and personal and national prosperity. It is this Indian who will shape the next 75 years.

The survey's questionnaires, raw data and methodology for all rounds, including the latest one, can be found here

(Data and analysis: Tauseef Shahidi, Pragya Srivastava, Manjul Paul, and Shuja Asrar from Mint, and Rahul Verma, Shamik Vatsa, Vaibhav Parik, Satyam Shukla from Centre for Policy Research. Survey operations: YouGov India)

 

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