People see larger role for religious leaders

A large number of people in South Asian countries favour a role for religious leaders as against politicians in major decision-making in their country, at a time when all the countries in the region have democratically-elected governments.

According to a report titled ‘State of Democracy in South Asia’, while in Pakistan more than half the respondents favoured the involvement of religious leaders in place of politicians in crucial decision-making, over one-third took this stand in Sri Lanka, and around one-fourth endorsed this position in Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

The survey report, which enumerates the opinions of 18,576 citizens in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, has been brought out under the aegis of the Global Barometer Survey and conducted by Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, and Jain University, Bengaluru.

The support for a role for religious leaders in highest among the Muslims across countries of the region, says the report.

“It can be a matter of debate whether this represents a lack of faith in the political class or a positive endorsement of religious leaders,” said the recently-released study.

In Pakistan, minorities such as Hindus and Christians favour a role for the religious leaders. In Sri Lanka, the support for a role in decision-making for religious leaders was not just among the Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims but also among the Christians and Hindus.

Rising polarisation

The report said, “Support for religious leaders reflects is not so much a vote of confidence in their credentials but a clear frustration with the political class. The increased religious polarisation that societies in countries of South Asia were witnessing in the recent past might have also contributed to this unconscious assertion of faith in the capacities of religious leaders.”

In fact, “it is a rare moment in South Asia today when all the countries in the region have democratically elected governments.”

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