Event ReportsPublished on May 20, 2013
The India Poll 2013, prepared by the Lowy Institute for International Policy in partnership with Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne, provides stark and surprising insights into what the people of India think about their future and the world.
India Poll 2013: A revelation for policy makers and strategists

The India Poll 2013, prepared by the Lowy Institute for International Policy in partnership with Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne, provides stark and surprising insights into what the people of India think about their future and the world.

The global launch of the report was done at Observer Research Foundation in Delhi, on May 20, 2013. It reflects the results of a nationally representative opinion survey of 1233 Indian adults conducted face-face between 30 August and 15 October, 2012.

According to the report, the poll reveals that an overwhelming majority of Indians view Pakistan and China as the biggest security threats to their nation.

While 83 per cent Indians view China as a threat, 60 per cent of them identify China as a major threat. According to Dr Rory Medcalf, the author of the poll report and a Director at Lowy Institute, ’the poll results suggest that India and China face major challenges in achieving trust and cooperation’.

This opinion is substantiated by 70 per cent of respondents who agree that China’s aim is to dominate Asia. However, in responding to China’s rise, the Indians are divided with 65 per cent agreeing that India should join other countries to limit China’s influence and 64 per cent are of the view that India should cooperate with China to play a leading role in the world.

Dr. Amitabh Mattoo, Director of the Australia India Institute (AII) and Dr. Medcalf suggest that the poll findings indicate a ’schizophrenic Indian attitude towards China’ that lacks clarity on how India should respond to China’s rise. At the same time, if a peace dialogue were to be initiated with Pakistan, the Indian government will have popular support.

According to Dr C. Raja Mohan, Head of ORF’s Strategic Affairs Programme, China, with its second largest economy in the world, is seen as a good opportunity for its neighbouring regions in terms of their own economic development but at the same these regions are apprehensive about China’s growing power and thus, see it as a threat.

The reasons for threat perception, according to the poll, include China’s possession of nuclear weapons, claim of sovereignty on parts of India’s territory, resource competition and strengthening relations with other countries in the Indian Ocean region.

Delivering the keynote address at the launch, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr Manish Tewari, shared a certain scepticism regarding quantitative research in general because of his experience in polls conducted in his constituency in Punjab, but praised the poll for certain indicators on corruption and possession of armed forces and said that this poll is a good indicator of what India needs to watch out for. He also shared the overall concern for a more stable South Asia.

The views from the panel discussion, moderated by ORF Director, Sunjoy Joshi, reflected concerns regarding the size and composition of sample respondents surveyed. The panellists were Dr C. Raja Mohan, Mr. Harsh Sethi, Consulting Editor of Mainstream magazine and Mr Ashok Mallik, political commentator and ORF-AII chair on India-Australia relations.

Mr Sethi said another interesting threat by China, as per Mr. Harsh Sethi, , is its perceived ability to stick to a stated purpose which makes Indians envious.

On Pakistan, 94 per cent of Indians see their neighbour as a security threat, predominantly because of the possibility of terrorist attacks, military animosity, possession of nuclear weapons and its claim of sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir.

However, 89 per cent of Indians agree that ordinary people in both India and Pakistan want peace. Eighty-seven per cent agreed that a big improvement in India-Pakistan relations requires courageous leadership in both countries and 76 per cent felt that India should take the initiative in seeking peace with Pakistan. Seventy-two per cent felt that trade and economic cooperation would bring peace between the two countries, while 67 per cent felt that without an agreement on Kashmir, peace would not be possible.

According to the poll, in terms of feelings towards a country, Indians feel most warmly towards the United States and least warmly towards Pakistan in a list of 22 countries. Japan, Singapore, Australia and the BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa, also ranked high up in the list. Other threats to Indian security include shortages of energy, food and water. Additionally, 96 per cent of Indians also consider corruption as holding the country back.

Dr Raja Mohan said that the poll provides a comprehensive overview of current trends but the sample size of the poll could be extended so that more questions can be addressed. Citing the example of India’s relationship with the U.S, he pointed out that tensions between the two nations have always been resolved because of continued interaction. As India’s economy has transformed from close to open, dependence on India’s interaction with the rest of the world has increased. Therefore, a formal assessment of what the nation is thinking is the need of the hour. He also spoke about India’s relationships with China and Pakistan. While there are tensions in both relationships, there is also a need to undertake efforts to improve relations.

Mr Sethi expressed concerns about the deep analytical divide between how governments and states operate and how the society operates. He appreciated the poll in providing indicative numbers about India’s perceptions and reiterated the importance of using these numbers in policy making. However, he emphasized the need to consider how different samples could provide different responses.

According to Mr Ashok Malik, the poll indicated that there is a general desire for peace and harmony in India which should be incorporated in wider policy making. The poll also shows that Indians are optimistic about the future of our economy. Reflecting the views of other panellists, he reiterated the importance of managing and incorporating different perceptions across the geographical and cultural contours of India.

The poll was lauded for flagging certain indicators at a crucial time as the UPA government completes its nine year tenure. It is not only unique to India but the current global situation. As per Mr Sethi, in the end, these numbers need to be used not just as markers but as something substantive in policy making.

(This report is prepared by Kanchi Gupta, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

Full text of Manish Tewari’s speech

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