June 29, 2018

What Do India’s Citizens Expect From the State?

In his piece in Pragati, Anirudh Kanisetti uses Lok Foundation data to explore questions about the relationship between the individual and the state. Specifically, he considers the following: What do Indians expect from the State? How much confidence do they have in it? Is the State perceived to be a more reliable provider of services than the private sector? Do Indians expect the State to provide employment or do they prefer to work in the private sector?

A Strong Role for the State Lok Foundation data reveal a widely held expectation of a strong role for the State in service delivery across India. Supplementing Kanisetti’s analysis, this sentiment is confirmed through responses to the following question: ‘Would you prefer that the Government take the responsibility to give you electricity or would you prefer to have a private company provide you electricity?’ The vast majority of respondents preferred government (65%) over private (23%) provisioning. While this might not explicitly indicate confidence in the state, it points to a clear expectation and desire for government intervention in service provisioning. Strikingly, this sentiment holds true across all states, and rural/urban India, with preferences for government provisioning being higher in urban India. The same is true across social groups -- gender, caste, income, education, religion and age. Not only is this preference clear, it is significant – on average and when disaggregated.

As Kanisetti shows, respondents’ willingness to pay for a 24 hour electricity supply (when they have access to at least some already) points in the same direction. Unpacking these data further, caste and religious privilege emerge as influential. Upper castes are most willing to pay for electricity (27%) – and more willing than the average Indian (24%). Conversely, SC/ST/Dalits are least willing (21%), and less willing than the average Indian. Similarly, Hindus are more willing (and perhaps able, on average) to pay for a guaranteed electricity supply than Muslims (24.5% and 22% respectively), and the average Indian. India’s youth (<20 years) also appear more willing to pay for electricity (27%), compared to both those over 50 and the average Indian (about 24% respectively). We invite researchers to use Lok data to examine whether this reflects growing aspirations amongst a new generation.

State-based variations in willingness to pay for guaranteed electricity are also considerable. Strikingly, in 13 states, people’s willingness to pay was greater than the average Indian, and in four of these states more than 50% of respondents were willing to pay for guaranteed electricity (60%, 74%, 77% and 100% in Haryana, Assam, Maharashtra and Kerala respectively). These states span several regions and while willingness to pay likely reflects respondents’ capacity to do so, states like Haryana and Kerala differ significantly in relative human development, suggesting other contributing factors are likely at play.

Class – both income and education -- also has a material influence on people’s willingness to pay for guaranteed electricity supplies. The rich are most willing (32%); more than the average Indian. Only 17% of poor respondents, significantly less than the average Indian, are willing to pay. Those most educated are most willing to pay (29%), while uneducated respondents are least willing (21%). To what extent are these views – held by those with caste, class, and religious privilege -- linked to financial capacity? Might other factors be at play? Similar questions asked of those without access to electricity reveal different trends, especially with regard to religion, calling for further analysis.

Government, not Private Sector Jobs

As Kanisetti illustrates, across the board, our data reveal an overwhelming preference for government over private sector jobs. This reflects some confidence in the state as an employer, or certainly a widespread expectation from the state. Even amongst the wealthiest and most educated -- who might have better opportunities in the private sector -- the government is viewed as a better employer. Poorer and less educated communities share this view, but are less enthusiastic – perhaps a reflection of barriers to employment they face. India’s youth appears most enthusiastic about the role of the government as an employer; particularly urban youth, which calls for further research.

Preferences for government jobs are materially greater amongst Hindus when compared to Muslims. This is expressed through desirability rankings of different kinds of jobs, and when asked about preferences for future jobs. Muslims prefer government jobs less than the average Indian, while Hindus essentially mirror the latter (66% and 57%; 73% and 51% respectively). Could the difference in expectations about government employment between Hindus and Muslims reflect perceptions of state discrimination? Our survey currently underway will shed light on general perceptions about religiously motivated discrimination – these are critical to understand given nation-wide threats to political secularism.