Studies of social capital have emphasised the subjective beliefs necessary to support strong networks of social ties and organisational memberships. Higher levels of confidence in the system’s institutions and trust in one’s fellow citizens facilitate the social interactions that build a strong civil society. The India Human Development Survey, a nationwide survey of 41,554 households conducted in 2004-2005 by researchers from University of Maryland and NCAER asked respondents how much confidence they had in 10 important institutions in Indian society (“a great deal of confidence,” “only some confidence,” or “hardly any confidence at all”). The analysis revealed that the principal division was between households that responded that they had “a great deal of confidence” and households that responded otherwise.
The most confidence was reported for banks (90%) and the military (87%), followed by schools (69%), hospitals/doctors (63%), courts (55%), newspapers (38%), panchayats and nagarpalikas (34%), the state government (27%), police (23%), and politicians (11%).
Low level of confidence in political institutions is striking but within that, respondents have far greater confidence in systems closest to them, i.e. the panchayats and nagarpalikas compared state governments. Politicians, when referred to in abstract, seem to enjoy the lowest level of confidence. This suggests a great potential for panchayats to serve as a nucleus for civil society.
Dr. Sonalde Desai is a Senior Fellow at NCAER, New Delhi.