Event Details

  • Date and Time: December 22, 2021; 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm IST
  • Topic: Politics and Society Between Elections: Public Opinion in India’s States
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Speakers: 
    • Prof Siddharth Swaminathan, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru
    • Prof Suhas Palshikar, Co-Director, Lokniti (CSDS), Delhi
  • Moderator: Dr Reetika Syal, Senior Officer, Research, CPPR

Highlights of the Event

  • The book highlights and analyses patterns and trends of public opinion on politics and society of elections in India. The book uses survey data covering 23 Indian states as well as the national capital region of Delhi. The thoughts that bind the book are that elections are episodic and governance is routine and the way these are correlated in the social and political framework that include both citizens and government functionaries. It deep dives into citizen perceptions and the social and political universes that both the citizens and government functionaries are a part of in the periods between elections.

Speaker 1: Prof Suhas Palshikar

  1. Prof Suhas introduced the purpose of the book by elaborating on evidence-based discussion of social-scientific concepts and the way such concepts are understood in a society as individuals or as groups and the way these are shaped and interact/interrelate with each other with regards to its centredness to a social-scientific systematic enquiry. 
  2. The book provides a glimpse into the emerging political culture of contemporary India and the project out of which the book is based emerges out of an evidence based empirical analysis of what India is currently thinking. Since election studies have been at the forefront of both the speakers’ research for several years, Prof Suhas stated that elections have a tendency of temporarily shaping public opinion. The book thus focuses on durable parts of public opinion in Indian States wherein state legislative and parliamentary elections took place across a three year duration.
  3. For a decade India has been at a cusp of transformation in terms of election processes and the book presents an excellent baseline of trends as to what Indians are thinking today in terms of elections. Prof Suhas stated that the trends highlighted in the book could be strengthened as well as contested in due course of time within Indian politics. 
  4. The book is based on the findings of a study conducted between 2016/2017 to 2019, a timing Prof. Suhas states, was opportune in understanding the social scientific investigation of India’s public opinion.
  5. India’s states are practically states unto themselves with their own socio-cultural and historical trajectory through which they approach mainstream Indian problems and therefore the study provided the speakers with an opportunity to observe these 23 Indian states and the capital of Delhi by opening the doors towards an unexplored territory of the comparative study of Indian states in terms of their similarities and differences in identity.

Speaker 2: Prof Siddharth Swaminathan

  1. The study that the book is based on was carried out across 23 Indian States and the national capital of India with a sample size of almost 48,000 respondents across 2017 to 2019. It is descriptive in nature based on patterns in public opinions across key identities and categories such as class, caste, identities, community identity, gender, levels of education, location and so on.
  2. Three dimensions that the book tries to cover are – i. Analytical ii. Empirical and iii. Substantive
  3. The Analytic focus is the period between elections to understand that despite the observable difference between the period during elections and the period between elections, the analytic separation is much more difficult to make because it is permeable in nature and their relationship is symbiotic in the sense that both these periods tend to influence each other.
  4. This distinction is useful primarily because the period between elections is when opinions about identities, institutions, public policy and governance generally tends to be shaped- for instance new policies are introduced, governance is routinized and institutions are reshaped. Elections on the other hand, tend to be episodic and reflect periods of heightened mobilisation unlike the periods between elections. However the latter allows the focus to be on individuals as citizens rather than voters and the concepts of ‘vote’ and ‘voter choices’ being distinct from one another.
  5. Empirically, this study aims at a systematic subnational comparison of political and social attitudes and opens up avenues of study of states of india. National aggregation, while generally useful, tends to mask diversity at a subnational level.
  6. Through the large sample size, the aim of the study is to encourage research utilizing a large number of observations in order to empirically test and theoretically derived hypotheses about public opinion in India. ‘Who holds what sorts of opinions, how are they distributed across states in India and what explains this variation?’ is a recurring theme of the book with the report exploring the same.
  7. Substantively, this study examines public opinion across a range of issues including social ties, political identities, access to basic services governance, institutions specifically on social identities with the survey posing questions about inter-community relationships, perceptions of other communities and opinions of gender roles and preferences over leader identities.
  8. On political identities, the survey focuses on opinions about nationalism and regionalism, sub nationalism, freedom of expression and populism. On political institutions, governance and public policy the survey focuses on citizen state interfaces, citizen trust in institutions and their views on procedural and distributive justice, access to political leaders, land governance, efficacy and ease of accessing services such as water, health and education.
  9. The results of the study that was shared during the event were as follows – i. Social lives remain homogeneous and exclusive (Caste, Community, and Gender- with stronger bonding capital intra-caste or intra-community capital and much less bridging of inter-class and inter- community capital bonding), ii.Distinct spatial (cross-State) patterns in political identity (Nationalism, Regional Identity, Populism). iii. Even spatial distribution of governance outcomes, but not across caste- communities (Access to Services, Ease of Services, and Preferences over Leaders) iv. Varying degrees of trust in elected and unelected political institutions (increase reliance on local governance)
  10. Prof. Siddharth stated that the study observed a paradoxical mix of attitudes- of authoritarian and democratic, modern and traditional  as well as inclusive and exclusive distribution of social attitudes. Regional and sub-national, cultural and national identities were observed based on the concept of Freedom of Expression in India along with social demographic differences based on minority community biasness, geographic differences pertaining to opinions about cultural majoritarianism, for eg on linguistic grounds, that coexists with a persistent sub-national identity that is spread geographically across States.
  11. The closing remarks were based on the dynamic nature of the sorts of durable public opinion that would form the base of Indian politics in the coming decades with a mixed future of democracy for India, in terms of the curtailment of the freedom of expression with the majority dominating minority views and on the other hand, the high public trust in institutions guarding against institutional breaches that indicate the burden that such institutions would have to carry in sustaining democracy.
  12. The speaker states that significant democratic deepening today seems uncertain and unclear with the study taking nature as a sobering finding if not an alarming one. Dr. Reetika furthered the Q&A session based on the concepts mentioned by both speakers.

The session was concluded with a Q&A session, and a vote of thanks to the esteemed members of the panel and the audience.

The event report is prepared by Murchana Hazarika, Research Intern at CPPR.

In case you missed it, watch the event video recording here

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