A weaver looks at a design template while sitting at a handloom making a silk saree in a workshop at night in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

What Do Indian Voters Really Want?

India’s two largest political parties—Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party—are vying on income support schemes to woo voters in the upcoming general election. But a new survey suggests that there is only one thing most voters want: better jobs.

“Across all divides—gender, age, social categories, rural and urban, and wealth groups—Indian voters have rated better employment opportunities as their highest priority,” according to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms that surveyed more than 2.73 lakh people across 534 Lok Sabha constituencies in 2018. “This is hardly surprising given the phase of jobless growth that India has been witnessing, under both UPA-II and NDA.”

Need for better jobs was a top priority for Indian voters for the second year running. Other governance issues that voters care most about were better healthcare, drinking water and roads.

Priority to jobs gained 57 percent more importance in 2018 compared to the previous years’ survey result by ADR. Of India’s eight most socio-economically backward states, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh prioritised employment opportunities over other concerns.

Overall, individuals from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes were most dissatisfied with the government’s ability to provide better jobs.

The government fared “below average” in handling other issues, including better healthcare and drinking water, that were significant to the voters, the survey said.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, according to the report, said more than 163 million Indians do not have access to safe drinking water. The National Rural Drinking Water Programme, too, failed to achieve its targets despite spending 90 percent of the Rs 89,956-crore budgeted over five years to 2017, it said.

The survey also showed that the government fared “exceptionally low” in matters concerning corruption, food prices, job training, terrorism and a strong military.

While the Union Skills Development Ministry in February said it certified 6,12,000 candidates who had completed training under the government’s flagship Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, the survey showed that the rural population is “most disappointed” with the training for jobs that they receive.

Voting Behaviour

Voters in India are more likely to be driven by who is the party’s chief ministerial candidate, the report said. The party to which a candidate belongs to ranks second on the priority list, followed by the candidate’s profile, it said.

While voters were aware that distribution of cash, liquor and gifts were illegal to sway votes, 41 percent voters accepted that it was one of the important factors influencing their behaviour.

Further, 98 percent voters said a candidate with a criminal record should not be in the Parliament or the State Assemblies. Last year, the central government informed the Supreme Court that 36 percent of the total 4,896 parliamentarians and State Assembly members were facing criminal trials. Only 35 percent Indians were aware that they can easily access criminal records of candidates, the report said.

According to the report, the governments in power at the centre and state/union territories neglected voters’ priorities. “An important aspect of ushering in better governance is to carefully listen,” said Trilochan Sastry, founder-chairman of ADR. “...people’s priorities need to be heard. It is not enough to leave policymaking and setting priorities to experts or to political parties in power.”