When Rebels Become Stakeholders: Democracy, Agency and Social Change in India


Subrata K. Mitra & V. B. Singh

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    Dedicated to the memory of Tejeshwar Singh

    List of Tables


    When Rebels Become Stakeholders explores the agency of ordinary men and women in the making of democratic social change in India. The study is specific to India, but the issues we examine here are of general interest. In contrast to the majority of post-colonial states, India has achieved both democracy and social change. We focus on the political skills of India's voters and their leaders instead of the essence of Indian culture to explain this remarkable phenomenon. The book draws on public opinion derived from three national surveys of the Indian electorate, held in 1971, 1996 and 2004 to explain this complex theme.

    Books, like people, have complex genealogies. Many of the ideas and events we analyse here represent our collaboration over the past three decades. The book draws on our individual and joint research, but most particularly on Democracy and Social Change in India: A Cross-section Analysis of the Indian Electorate (Sage, 1999). A fortuitous conversation with Mr Tejeshwar Singh in 2005 in the crammed and convivial set up of his office at SAGE, the seat of independent Indian publishing for an entire generation, led us to rethink our initial design. The book that resulted has been enriched through the addition of new survey data from 2004, made available by Lokniti, Delhi. We take this opportunity to thank its directors, Peter de Souza and Yogendra Yadav and National Co-ordinator Sanjay Kumar for their generous help. Conversations with Dhirubhai Sheth—over the past many years since the inception of this project—have helped sharpen our arguments. Himanshu Bhattacharya has helped us from the outset with statistical analysis. Our two organisations, the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, have been most helpful with institutional support.

    Mike Enskat, Anja Kluge, Malte Pehl and Clemens Spiess have rendered valuable help with previous drafts of this text. Despite the heavy demand on his time, Ashok R. Chandran, our first editor at SAGE, has set the pace, and made the text accessible through his gentle, imaginative, effective and unobtrusive editing. Dr Sugata Ghosh, our commissioning editor at SAGE has seen the manuscript into publication during the final stages of the book with exemplary speed and attention to details. We would like to express our gratitude to all these friends.

    Opinions, attitudes and values of ordinary people form the basis of this book. Our access to the voter would not have been possible, had it not been for the efforts of the investigators of Lokniti. We owe them a special vote of thanks. In transforming the fruits of their diligent labour into a form that makes it accessible to the elector and the scholar, we hope, we will strengthen the vital chain that connects information and the elector, and makes democracy work.

    The book has been written with students of Indian democracy, and of comparative politics, in view. We hope that the book will provide the students of Indian society and politics with analytical tools that would make it possible for them to look beyond the uniqueness of India and instead think of this country as a unique set of common attributes, rather like any large, complex society ensconced in an ancient, continuous civilisation. Thanks to the popularity of public opinion polls which have become part of India's electoral landscape, the role of individual attitudes, expectations, values and distribution of opinion in the making of major political decisions is seen today as part and parcel of the democratic process. Still, for many specialists the individual often disappears and reappears as part of collective categories, ethnic groups or even becomes indistinguishable, lost in the janta—a collective of an undifferentiated, essentialised, static mass. In presenting survey data on individual attitudes, opinions and preferences into tabular form, arranged in terms of problems, concepts and socio-demographic categories, and bringing the individual back in again, the volume attempts to resist this tendency.

    We dedicate this study to the memory of Mr Tejeshwar Singh, in homage to his contribution to Indian social science publication. The high standard of engagement, honesty and professionalism that he has set will continue to be a source of inspiration to others.

  • Appendix 1: Note on Methodology*

    Drawing a random sample of the Indian population is made problematic by its sheer diversity. With 846 million people spread across 26 states and six union territories, India represents a very diverse society. Apart from numerous geographical divisions, it is a multi-cultural society. People are distributed in 16 major language groups. Smaller languages and local dialects are about 1000. Thousands of castes and sub-castes, distinguishing themselves in terms of pursuit of occupations, ritual practices, life style, food habits, and so on, make the country still more complex. Though Hindus constitute a vast majority (82 per cent), India is lived by almost all major religions of the world. With 100 million, 12.1 per cent Muslims, India ranks in the top, as far as total number of Muslims living in a country is concerned. In addition to Muslims, there is a sizeable population of Christians (2.3 per cent), Sikhs (1.9 per cent), Buddhists (0.8 per cent) and others (1.3 per cent), who do not only enjoy equality but minority safeguards are also granted to them.

    These are, at the best, glimpses of the social diversities the Indian democracy is coping with. But more than these social diversities, economic inequality and its resultant effects are the greater cause of concern for the system. Regional imbalances, poor means of transport and communication, lack of literacy (as high as 47.8 per cent illiterates), over one-third of its population living below the poverty line, are all on the negative side of the democratic experiment. However, belying all popular myths about conditions hindering or helping the democratic experiment, India has not only ventured to defy these notions but has also succeeded, to a great extent, to integrate and unify them all through its democratic processes.

    Since answers to questions posed here can be sought through ascertaining views from a wide variety of the country's population, only a survey method was found suitable for the purpose. The 1996 Lok Sabha elections provided the occasion and the entire Indian electorate, as they existed in this election, became the universe of this study. For reasons of abnormal law and order situation, it was decided to exclude the state of Jammu and Kashmir. That is, excluding the six Lok Sabha constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir, the remaining 537 constituencies falling in 25 states and six union territories of India constituted the universe. In other words, any person who figured on the electoral roll of these 537 constituencies was a potential subject for this study.

    For a population of 846 million, a sample of 4000–5000 persons, chosen randomly, might be considered an appropriate size to derive generalizations at the national level. However, the concerns of the present study, aimed at analysing the data, not only at the state levels (at least for some of the states), but also at the level of the social groups and their comparison across as well as within the groups, necessitated a larger sample. It became all the more important because any stratification at the level of social groups was not possible at all.

    Thus, we decided for a larger sample and aimed at a sample size of 9,000 plus completed interviews. In order to meet this target without any substitution, we had no option but to inflate the sample size to meet the short-fall caused by non-completion. The experience of previous surveys shows that, the rate of completion in similar surveys has varied between 55 to 70 per cent in different states. Considering the proportional contribution of each state, the national average works out to about 60 per cent. Given this rate of completion, if one has to meet the given target, the sample needs to be inflated by 66.67 per cent. Thus the original sample size of 9000 was inflated to 15,015 (9,000 × 0.6667 + 9,000 = 15,015) so that a completion rate of 60 per cent could give us 9,000 completed interviews, which was our target exactly.

    Sample Units and Distribution of Respondents

    Individual electors being the ultimate source of our information, a method had to be evolved to identify them in a manner that would make them the representatives of the universe. Since we had decided to examine our concerns through the prism of elections, each elector had to be located and traced through following different levels of electoral boundaries, namely, state, Lok Sabha constituency (PC), Vidhan Sabha constituency (AC), polling booth (PS), individual elector, that is, respondent. Following this track, and to give adequate coverage to each state or group of states and union territories, a quota of one-fifth of the constituencies from each state was fixed to be selected. Accordingly, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, a total of 108 out of 537 Lok Sabha constituencies had to be chosen first. Since Lok Sabha constituencies are constituted by different Vidhan Sabha segments in them, it was decided to select two ACs from each PC falling in the sample. That is, 216 Vidhan Sabha constituencies (108 × 2 = 216) were selected in the second step. Similarly, two polling booths from each of the chosen ACs, which makes 432 polling booths (216 × 2 = 432), were selected in the third step. Finally, in the fourth step, a fixed number of respondents from all the selected booths, sharing equally the quota proportionately allocated to each state, was selected from the most recent electoral roll of the sampled booth (see Table A1.1).

    TABLE A1.1 State-wise Distribution of Sampled Units and Respondents

    Sampling Procedure

    In order to draw a representative sample of the Indian electorate, a multistage, stratified, random sampling procedure has been used, wherein we decided to select 20 per cent Lok Sabha constituencies from the list of all the constituencies in a state. The number of PCs thus selected from all the states and union territories of India (excluding Jammu and Kashmir) is 108. Selection of different sample units was done in different stages:

    Stage One: Selection of Lok Sabha Constituencies
    • First of all, all PCs with their electorate in a state were serialised as per the Election Commission of India's Delimitation Order of 1976;
    • Cumulative total of the electorate was assigned against each constituency in an ascending order;
    • In order to avoid the selection of the contiguous constituencies, the total electorate in the state was divided by the number of constituencies to be selected from that state. It helped to create as many geographical zones as the number of sampled constituencies in the state. The figure thus obtained represents one zone and is called hereafter as ‘constant’;
    • Since the intentions were to give space to zonal representation too, we decided to select one PC from each such zone.

    And, finally, to select individual PCs, a random number (using a Random Number Table) was chosen from within the constant and compared with the cumulative total of the electorate, listed against each PC. In whichever cumulative total it fell, the PC listed against that, was chosen as the first sampled Lok Sabha constituency of that state. Subsequent constituencies were selected by adding the constant to the random number. That is, one addition of the constant would give a second PC, an addition of two would give the third, and so on and so forth.

    While this procedure provided adequate (geographical) coverage of the state, it also ensured a proportional chance to every constituency. That is, constituencies with a larger electorate enjoyed greater chance of selection in the sample and fulfilled the requirements of the PPS (Probability Proportionate to Size) sampling procedure.

    These steps and the sampling procedure were repeated in each state to select a set of 108 Lok Sabha constituencies, and then repeated twice over to obtain two more such sets. Validation tests of the representativeness were then carried out by matching the mean score of these sample sets with the national average in terms of some key variables, such as voter turnout and the vote share of different political parties in the previous elections, proportion of reserved constituencies for the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST), share of the SC and ST population and the degree of urbanisation. The set which provided the best fit was thus selected. Table A1.2 presents comparable figures for the sample (the set which was finally selected) as well as of the universe, and validates the representative character of our sample to a great extent.

    TABLE A1.2 Comparable Figures for the Sample and the Universe

    Stage Two: Selection of Vidhan Sabha Constituencies
    • All ACs with their electorate were serialised for every sampled PC in a state;
    • Cumulative total of the electorate was worked out and listed against each AC in ascending order;
    • The total electorate in a PC was divided by two (in the manner already stated earlier) to obtain a constant;
    • Drawing a random number from within the constant, the first AC was selected and the constant was added in the random number to select the second AC.

    Like stage one, this procedure was repeated in each sampled PC to select the given number of ACs (No. of PC × 2) in a state. Similarly, like PCs, two more such sets were drawn to choose the best fit by following the same validation tests for Vidhan Sabha elections.

    These steps were repeated for each state to select a final set of 216 Vidhan Sabha constituencies. Table A1.3 presents the list of sampled Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha constituencies.

    Table A1.3 List of Sampled Constituencies Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha

    Stage Three: Selection of Polling Booths

    Two polling booths were to be selected from each of the 216 ACs in our sample. These were selected by the simple random procedure. That is, the PPS method was not followed in the selection of polling booths. However, care was taken to avoid the selection of contiguous units. To do so:

    • Total number of polling booths in an AC was divided by two to make two groups and to obtain a number (constant) that would determine the distance between the two sampled booths;
    • First PS was selected by picking a random number from the first half; and
    • The second PS was selected by adding the constant to the serial number of the first booth.

    Stage Four: Selection of Respondents As stated earlier, the number of respondents to be interviewed in each state was determined by the state's share in India's total population (excluding Jammu and Kashmir). That is, the target of 15,000 respondents was proportionately (according to the 1991 Census) distributed in each state. The number thus obtained was divided by the total number of polling booths to be selected from that state to fix a quota for each sampled booth in the state (see Table A1.1).

    To Select Individual Respondents from the Sampled Booth, the Following Steps were Followed:

    • The most recent electoral roll of the sampled booth was obtained from the local election office.
    • If required, the electoral roll was serialised for any deletion, addition, and of course, inclusion of list(s) from other electoral units, in case the booth covered more than one area.
    • The total number of electors in the booth was divided by the fixed quota of interviews to obtain a constant to divide the lowest sample unit (PS) into as many sub-units as the number of respondents allocated to a booth.
    • A random number was chosen from within the constant to select the first respondent from that locality. The constant was added to the random number to select the next respondent, and this exercise was repeated till the last respondent from that booth was selected.

    This procedure was repeated for all the polling booths in each state and a list of 15,015 respondents was prepared to form a national representative sample for this study.

    Research Instruments

    A detailed interview schedule was prepared, involving scholars with considerable experience in survey research. Questions were tested and pre-tested in different socio-political milieus and were accordingly revised. The final version of the questionnaire was prepared in English (Appendix 2) and was translated into the local languages, which again was pre-tested for accuracy and standardisation across languages.

    In addition to main questionnaire, two more data collection schedules were prepared.

    • Village/town data schedule was prepared to collect information about the locality from which our respondents were selected. Information like the social composition and infrastructural facilities of the area were thought to be of great use in enhancing our understanding of the data; and,
    • Summary background data schedule. This was prepared for those respondents whose interviews were not possible for one reason or the other. The information thus generated would help us to explain some methodological questions, for example, over-reporting in turnouts and distortion in the representative character of our sample, if any.
    Training of Field Staff

    The success of a large survey research lies in the quality of data collection. Since such surveys are conceived and designed by one person or a group of persons and carried out by different persons in the field, the investigators and other personnel associated with the fieldwork need to be adequately trained. They need to be trained to the extent that they are able to appreciate the basic concerns of the study, its relevance, and of course, why they have to follow the method, procedure and techniques they are told to. Accordingly, workshops were organised to train the trainers first, and they were equipped with the following:

    • Objective and focus of the study.
    • Objective of each question.
    • Sampling details.
    • Canvassing the questionnaire, editing and checking the recorded responses.
    • Coding.
    • Field logistics.

    Training for field supervisors and field investigators were organised at different regional centres in which a group of trainers, associated with the study, participated. While the training covered all the aspects listed, special attention was given on rapport building and skills in canvassing the interview schedule, recording of answers, using probes and coding the responses in the columns provided for them.

    A detailed manual for the interviewer was prepared in advance and was extensively used during the course of in-depth training.

    Finally, to carry out the survey efficiently, the country was divided into 16 operational zones and as many ‘state co-ordinators’, drawn from the nationwide network of senior social scientists associated with the programme, were entrusted with the responsibility of co-ordinating the field-work and data collection in their respective areas.

    * For detailed methodological information on earlier and subsequent surveys, see ‘National Election Study, 2004; An Introduction’ in Economic & Political Weekly, December 18, 2004, pp. 5373–83.

    Appendix 2

    2.1 Survey Instrument, 1996

    Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110054

    National Election Study, 1996 Post-Poll Survey

    Interview's Introduction

    I have come from Delhi—from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. We are studying the Lok Sabha elections and are interviewing thousands of ordinary voters from different parts of the country. The findings of these interviews will be used to write in books and newspapers without giving any respondent's name. It has no connection with any political party or the government. I need your co-operation to ensure the success of our study. Kindly spare some time to answer my questions.

    Interview Begins

    Background Data

    2.2 Survey Instrument, 2004

    Centre for the Study of Developing Societies 29, Rajpur Road, Delhi 110054

    National Election Study, 2004 Post-Poll Survey

    Interviewer's Introduction

    I have come from Delhi—from an educational institution called the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (give your university's reference). We are studying the Lok Sabha elections and are interviewing thousands of voters from different parts of the country. The findings of these interviews will be used to write in books and newspapers without giving any respondent's name. It has no connection with any political party or the government. I need your co-operation to ensure the success of our study. Kindly spare some time to answer my questions.

    Interview Begins

    Background Data
    Personal Data

    Household Data

    2.3 Accommodation

    The objective of this scale called Accommodation is to measure along an inclusiveness–exclusiveness dimension of the willingness of the Indian electorate to accommodate minority and related interests. At one extreme of the scale are those who want a strong, nationalistic-culture, elitist and patriarchal state, and at the other extreme are those who prefer a multi-cultural, gender-sensitive and non-elitist society.

    The following variables (attitudinal data) have been selected to form the index of accommodation. The ‘no responses’ and missing values have been regrouped in the middle (value = 1) and recoding has been done in order to adjust the direction of answers (inclusive = 0; exclusive = 2).

    Table A2.3.1 Questions for Accommodation Scale
    28dOnly educated people should have the right to vote. Do you agree or disagree?
    28eThose who are not well educated should not be allowed to contest elections.
    28kIt is the responsibility of the government to protect the interests of the minority communities. Do you agree or disagree?
    29aSome people say that the destruction (of the disputed building [Babri Masjid]) was justified while others say it was not justified. What would you say? Was it justified or not justified?
    34aBackward castes should have reservation in government jobs. Do you agree or disagree?
    34bThere is no need for India to make the atomic bomb. Do you agree or disagree?
    34dLike Gram Panchayats, there should be reservation for women in assemblies and parliament. Do you agree or disagree?
    34fIndia should make more efforts to develop friendly relations with Pakistan. Do you agree or disagree?
    34gThe needs and problems of Muslims have been neglected in India. Do you agree or disagree?
    34hEvery community should be allowed to have its own laws to govern marriage and property rights. Do you agree or disagree?

    The scale has been generated on the basis of the following correlations:

    Accordingly, the values of these 10 variables have been added up, so that one gets a scale from min = 0 (inclusive to max = 20 (exclusive). Graphically, one can see the distribution of the whole sample and two sub-populations, namely, the age cohorts as developed in Chapter 2 and the voters of the Left Front and the BJP.

    Appendix 3: Tables

    TABLE A3.1 Election Data, Indian Parliamentary Elections, 1952–2004

    TABLE A3.2 Participation Trends in Major Assembly Elections, 1952–2006

    TABLE A3.3 Percentage Turnout in Assembly Elections, 1984–2006

    TABLE A3.4 Summary of Lok Sabha Elections, 1952–1971 (Seats and per cent of Vote)

    TABLE A3.5 Summary of Lok Sabha Elections, 1977–2004 (Seats and per cent of Vote)

    TABLE A3.6 Multiple Correlation of the Components of Democracy and Social Change (1996)


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    About the Authors

    Subrata K. Mitra is Professor and Head, Department of Political Science at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, and a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. His published work includes The Puzzle of India's Governance: Culture, Context and Comparative Theory (2005). He is the editor of Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics and the academic editor of the series Advances in South Asian Studies. He was the President of the Research Committee on Political Sociology of the International Political Science Association and the International Sociological Association (2002–06).

    V.B. Singh is Honorary Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. His published works include Profiles of Political Elites in India and Elections in India: Data Handbook on Lok Sabha Elections 1986–91 (1984); Hindu Nationalists in India: The Rise of BJP (1994 and 1995); and Elections in India: Data Handbook on Vidhan Sabha Elections, 1952–85 (Five volumes) (1994). He has been the Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies from 1997 to 2002.

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