It’s only to be expected in a democracy that a country will be divided between those who passionately support the ruling party and others who are firmly loyal to the opposition. However, a recent survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggests two further divisions in India that are deeply disturbing.
First, a few details about this survey. It was conducted in the last week of March and covered 10,000 people in 101 constituencies located in 19 states. It is, therefore, a pretty comprehensive assessment of the state of the country. Second, CSDS is a reputable organisation with unimpeachable credentials.
One of the questions the survey asked was do you believe the country is heading in the right direction or in the wrong direction? An astonishing 45 per cent of the respondents from south India said it was heading in the wrong direction. The percentage of those who voted similarly in the east, west, central and north was just 21, 23 and 22 respectively. So, in percentage terms, more than double the number of people in the south, compared to the rest of the country, believe we are heading in the wrong direction.
To my mind, that suggests a sharp divide between the southern states and all the others. No doubt this reflects the way they view the Narendra Modi government and its impact on the country and, without doubt, this reveals their political preference. But such a sharp divide between the states to the north and south of the Narmada is more revealing. It suggests we have become two countries.
A second question asked by the CSDS survey unmasks an even more disturbing picture. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs were asked whether the Modi government should be given another chance or denied one. Fifty-one per cent of Hindus were in favour of a second chance. However, 56 per cent of Muslims, 62 per cent of Christians and 68 per cent of Sikhs were against it. This time, it seems, the Modi government’s supporters and opponents are divided along religious lines. Even if it’s only by a minimal majority, India’s Hindus are Modi supporters. India’s minorities are not. Once again, this suggests we have become two countries.
There’s one other aspect of the CSDS survey that struck my attention. It’s not disturbing but it is, nonetheless, revealing. It seems that in the last one year, from May 2018 till the end of March 2019, the greatest gain in support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come from the young voters, that is, voters aged between 18 and 25. A CSDS survey in May suggested that 33 per cent would vote for the BJP. By the end of March that had jumped to 40 per cent. No other age group has shown such a sizeable increase although in every age group there’s been some enhancement of support. So, clearly, the young are attracted to the BJP and, I suspect, in particular, to Modi.
Will that continue as they grow older? Do we have in this result the foundation of a support base that will, with time, enlarge? And could this enhance or exaggerate the regional and religious divisions we’ve already discussed? Those are interesting questions. As yet we can only guess at the answers.
However, if we bear these concerns in mind as the election campaign unfolds and gathers momentum over the next six weeks, it might help understand what’s happening to our country and what sort of nation we’re becoming.