India’s standing in the world is much improved since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in 2014, according to the latest annual Pew Research Center opinion poll of Indian attitudes. However, a majority of Indians believe New Delhi doesn’t have a grip on its Pakistan policy.
Indians revealed an overwhelmingly positive and confident view of their place in the world and Modi’s foreign policy received a general thumbs-up in the survey.
One stark negative: Strong disapproval of Modi’s handling of Pakistan. Only 22% of Indians polled approved of his policy, a view likely exacerbated by incidents such as the terror strike on Pathankot airbase that was blamed on Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The poll, based on interviews of nearly 2,500 Indians across 16 states and in eight languages, was conducted between April 7 and May 24.
The highlights of the poll:
* Indians are pleased with their place in the world.
Over two-thirds of Indians feel their country plays a more important role in the world than it did 10 years ago. That is nearly three times similar responses from Americans and Europeans to the same question. This feel good encompasses globalisation: 52% support India’s involvement in the global economy, also higher than figures for Western respondents.
There are also stirrings of great power think. Asked if India should take allies’ concerns into account, even if this run counter to India’s interests, nearly half said “Yes”.
Though only 23% felt India should help other countries, a reminder that the country’s domestic problems remain top of the mind, 46% said improving human rights globally should be an important foreign policy goal.
* Indians like Modi’s embrace of the US, but not his policy to Pakistan.
Pew asked Indians whether they approved of Modi’s dealings with four countries: the US, Russia, China and Pakistan.
The policy for the US received the highest ratings with a 54% approval rating, and 15% being critical. Mainstream India continues to support close relations with Washington. But the Pew survey noted that support for Modi’s US policy has fallen 12 percentage points since last year.
The policy on Pakistan received “a harsh judgment”, Pew noted, with 50% expressing disapproval and only 22% expressing support. The most critical were BJP supporters (54%), with Congress supporters being less bothered (45%). However, this state of affairs is largely unchanged from last year’s survey.
A sense of the antipathy to Pakistan was evident in two other results. First, 62% of Indians believe “overwhelming military force” is the “best way to defeat terrorism”. This is much higher than even Americans, only 47% of whom take this view. Second, despite India’s economic ills, 63% of Indians supported increased defence spending.
Modi’s Russia policy received a 43% approval rating, six points higher than last year. His handling of China received only a 38% approval rating, largely unchanged from last year.
* Indians continue to show no love for China.
Pakistan, no surprise, is the country that Indians hate the most with a 73% unfavourable to 14% favourable rating.
China came second with a much lower unfavourability rating of 36%. Though 31% of Indians approve of China, that is a sharp 10 points lower than the figure last year. The feeling is reciprocated: 61% of Chinese disapprove of India with only 26% saying the reverse.
What should trouble Beijing is that ambivalence about China is present among poorly educated Indians. Among Indians with some college education, anti-Chinese sentiment soars to 61%.
When it came to China’s growing military power, its relations with Pakistan, and its territorial disputes with and economic impact on India, between 67% and 70% of Indians said these posed a very serious or serious problem.
This sentiment is strongest among BJP supporters who on average are 11 percentage points more concerned about China than Congress backers, especially in regards to China’s military power.
President Xi Jinping suffers accordingly – only 15% of Indians express confidence in him.
* Trump is a mystery, but climate change is not.
The world leader in the making who fares worse than Xi Jinping with the Indian public is US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. He got a 14% confidence vote and a 16% no-confidence vote, but mostly left Indians at a loss for opinion. Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, despite her repeated visits to India, fares slightly better with a confidence vote of 28%.
The winner is outgoing US President Barack Obama, who netted a 58% thumbs-up. This figure jumped to 86% among Indians with college education. Curiously, Obama’s numbers are down 16 points from last year, despite two back-to-back visits to India.
Climate change continues to be seen by Indians as the number one international threat, out of a list of eight offered. A solid 53% saw it as a major threat to India, 18% as a minor threat and only 8% dismissed it as being no threat.
The Islamic State came in a close second at 52% , China’s rise as a world power got 45%. The power and influence of the US came at the bottom with 27% of Indians seeing it as a concern.