A survey conducted to orchestrate support for the government, rather than reflect the views of those hurt by the move or solicit constructive feedback.
On Tuesday, the Indian prime minister took to Twitter to invite ‘netizens’ to show their support for his controversial move to demonetise 86% of India’s money by downloading his app and voting their preference. On Wednesday, less than 24 hours later, he declared he had won a resounding victory.
Of the 500,000 respondents who have voted, 93% support “the move to demonetise old 500 and 1000 rupee notes”, with only 2% of responses rating it as “very poor” or giving it “one star”.
Modi’s numbers may be slightly less than the 99.96% vote share Saddam Hussein had once claimed or the 100% that North Korea’s popular leaders win every time they stand for election but they are no less impressive.
Especially since unlike those elections where voters only get to tick the yes box, the choices on Modi’s app were broader. “Check the first box if you think his move is brilliant, the second if it is very good – and the third if you support terrorism and corruption”, is how one uncharitable observer who declined to be identified described the poll.
For the record, 90% of those who responded agreed that demonetisation was ‘brilliant/nice’, while 92% said the government’s efforts against corruption were ‘very good/good’. To the question, ‘Do you believe some anti-corruption activists are now actually fighting in support of black money, corruption & terrorism?’ – a reference to Modi’s critics – 86% of the respondents said yes.
Who are these anti-corruption activists? The survey doesn’t say, though the BJP has branded opposition politicians like Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee as being soft on corruption and terror. BJP leader and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has said those opposing demonetisation are “anti-national”.
When it comes to how demonetisation will impact curbing black money, corruption and terrorism, a majority of those who responded have no doubt; only 6% of people who filled out the survey believed that it would have “minimal impact”, while an overwhelming 92% felt that the move would have either an “immediate impact” or a “medium-to-long-term impact”.
As at least one scholar familiar with the business of surveys has noted that a lot depends on the leading manner in which questions were posed:
The survey, which was carried out on the Narendra Modi app – a privately owned and registered initiative of the prime minister in his personal capacity – also asked respondents how the removal of the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes would affect real estate, higher education and healthcare.
Among the respondents, 66% believe that demonetisation would bring the three industries “within common man’s reach” and 27% of respondents partially agreed that it would. The only catch to this question is of course there was no “disagree” option. Which is why 6% of respondents “can’t say” whether demonetisation would make healthcare, education and buying a house more affordable.
One of the more burning debates that is currently raging throughout India, especially amongst India’s upper-middle class, is to what extent demonetisation has inconvenienced the common man. It was only natural, therefore, for Modi’s survey to ask: ‘Do you mind the inconvenience faced in our fight to curb corruption, black money, terrorism & counterfeiting of money? Unlike their former colonial masters, it appears that Indians aren’t a nation of whingers: 43% of respondents replied “not at all” and another 48% ticked the option “somewhat, but worth it”. Only 8% of people answered “yes” – they minded the inconvenience.
To cap it off, the last question that Modi’s survey had asked about was for respondents to “share their unique ideas, suggestions or insights”. According to Modi’s personal website, the “responses to this question has (sic) been most enlightening”.
The first citizen response the survey lists is from one Nazia Shaikh from Maharashtra. Nazia, the survey findings note, is a Muslim girl whose entire family is against her because she is a fan of the dear leader. This is what she had to say:
“I m a Muslim girl, my entire family is against me coz I m a fan of Modi. I don’t know much about Indian politics, I don’t know bjp or congress or AAP, Shivsena..coz I m too busy with my own life…but I chose this Man to be a PM and I only hope my decision is right..all other politicians have looted Janta..hope Mr Modi proves my family & Muslim community wrong…and I wish him all the best for at least taking such a bold decision and hope he is successful and year by year we only vote for Him..I respect my PM coz I have Chosen him and I will fight all odds to stand by him with all his wise decisions..Mr Modi please don’t ever let us down…be true to everything u say in ur speech..I don’t know if u will read this or not but I only hope 1.25billion people eyes are on you..Jai Hind.”
While Modi’s website does point out that the survey’s results are only initial and has requested “more citizens to actively participate”, this process does contain obvious structural flaws. The question about ‘some anti-corruption activists’, for example, clearly does not belong in a process that is aimed at consultative feedback.
As a number of observers have pointed out, proper survey design would include a wide range of negative responses as well; something missing from the current survey.
But more importantly, how representative or meaningful is such a survey? Anjali Bhardwaj of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information told The Wire that while Modi’s survey is obviously a consultative process, the question is how representative this feedback process is.
“A lot of the people who are suffering the most are not people who can get on the Internet and access apps in any case. The people who are suffering the most are people who are living in remote areas, where banks are very far way. People who don’t have access to plastic money. Those are the ones who we see queuing up all the time and are most badly hit,” she said.
Bhardwaj points out that the other issue is one of meaningfulness. “A meaningful survey would also include other questions that would help guide the government. The questions to ask are: Do people feel that other measures should be taken? Do they want electoral funding and political party funding to be transparent or not? If this [the survey] is to just build some position, what can anybody say. For it to be meaningful, it should have reflected on some of these other questions as well,” she said.