After ‘roti, kapda aur makaan’, India now needs more

  • Krittivas Mukherjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 25, 2014 13:46 IST

In the run up to the parliamentary elections earlier this year, before Narendra Modi rode to power in New Delhi, the man meant different things to different people: Some saw him creating masses of jobs and bringing down prices, others were certain he was going to weed out corruption and fix everything that ailed India’s healthcare and education.

In rally after rally, with a sea of faces tilted up at him, Modi connected with a churning, aspirational India that saw in his humble origins an incorruptible advocate for change, a force of optimism that fed their hopes of rising into prosperity.

Since then, those hopes have followed Modi into office and, while he may have begun tackling some of the challenges, it appears that the fundamental worries of the urban Indian still remain the same.

More than 80% of participants in an exclusive 14-city HT-GfK Mode survey said corruption was India’s biggest problem, calling for the removal of discretionary quotas for politicians, increased transparency and web-based governance to curb graft.

However, only 20% felt state-funded elections, long thought of as the antidote to black money, could help. Three out of every 10, believed the use of plastic money was the answer to tackling slush funds.

Alongside corruption, a sharp spike in inflation contributed to the fall of the UPA-government. Price rise is still a concern for Indians, although retail inflation is now at its lowest in three years, helped in large measures by falling crude oil and food prices.

For 72% of those polled, price rise was their biggest worry, a valid concern given the notoriously stubborn Indian inflation, followed by respondents for whom lack of jobs (24%), inadequate and costly healthcare (35%) and access to education (34%) respectively were prime headaches.

The solutions suggested to these problems were revealing. Some respondents believed lower taxes on petro products, easier import norms and a crackdown on hoarding could help keep prices low; jobs could be created by increasing incentives for investments and speeding up projects; healthcare could be bolstered by subsiding medicines and offering universal health insurance.

To be fair, Modi’s government has already kicked off some of these measures. For instance, the National Health Assurance Mission has promised free medicines and diagnostic tests as well as universal insurance cover to treat critical illnesses. Investor confidence in India is high, the administration more responsive.

Still, the mood in urban India may, at best, be one of cautious optimism and, up to a third of those polled said, the underprivileged still remained vulnerable, requiring affirmative action in education and jobs to reduce poverty.

Awareness was also high about one of Modi’s signature projects, the Clean India campaign. Some 90% Indians are aware of it but said inadequate penalties and sanitation facilities could be proving to be hurdles to the campaign.

One of Modi’s very first moves after coming to office was to engage with India’s neighbours, including Pakistan. And although the government has called off the peace dialogue with Islamabad, urban Indians (34%) see frequent official-level talks as the way to improve relations. An equal number of respondents suggest more trade could better help ties.

Those polled also felt the government may not be doing enough to prevent industrial pollution (40%) in what is the world’s fourth-worst polluter. Only 15% said saving the flora and fauna were more important.

Across urban India, improving incomes have led to not only better living standards but also in many cases a rise in sedentary lifestyles. A third of those polled said most lifestyle diseases were caused by the poor working conditions. A slightly lower number of people blamed it on a lack of public spaces for sports and exercise.

Talking of sports, the survey saw people blaming inadequate infrastructure and funds and corrupt administrators for India’s poor performance in global events such as the Olympics.

To be sure, much of India has moved on from a time when ‘roti, kapda aur makaan’ were its prime worries. Today, the aspirations of India’s boisterous middle-class are only taking wings and it is no longer happy with enough. That change reflects in its choice of worries.

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