The ‘State of Democracy Report’, released recently by a group of political scientists in southern Indian city of Bengaluru, has made a shocking revelation that the South Asian countries are losing faith in democracy. In other words, the love for dictatorship is gaining ground in the region.

The report has been prepared by the three political scientists under the aegis of the Global Barometer Survey on the basis of opinions on the forms of government shared by more than 18,500 people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Interestingly, the study finds that even highly qualified people in these countries prefer dictatorship to democracy.

As far as India is concerned, the majority Hindu community people prefer dictatorship to democracy than the minority Muslims. Although 63% Indians still prefer democracy, 15% Hindus and 14% Muslims prefer dictatorship.

The scenario is same in neighbouring Pakistan. Majority of people in Pakistan’s Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baloch Provinces prefer dictatorship. In fact, number of these people is much higher in Punjab and Baloch, as around 38% and 27% people prefer dictatorship, respectively, in these two provinces.

Among the South Asian nations, the country that has greater faith in democracy is Bangladesh. Only 2% Muslims and 2% Hindus prefer dictatorship inBangladesh, while 78% Muslims and 79% Hindus prefer democracy. Next comes Sri Lanka, where the majority of people prefer democracy.

Interestingly, a large section of people in South Asian countries want religious leaders to join politics. In all the five countries, a very high percentage of Muslim respondents back religious leaders. While the percentage is 52 in Pakistan, it is 51 in Sri Lanka and 34 in India.

Professor Sandeep Shastri of Jain University, Professor Suhas Palshikar of Savitribai Phule University in Pune and Professor Sanjay Kumar of CSDS New Delhi, who prepared the report, have expressed serious concern over the outcome of the study, saying it is unfortunate that only one-third people in the region feel democracy means getting welfare and justice.

The report further revealed how ‘support’ for democracy went down significantly in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. In 2015, around 70% of Indians backed democracy. However, the support has fallen to 63% by 2013. In Nepal, the support fell to 11% in 2013 from 62% in 2005. Support for democracy has risen only in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh during this period.

Speaking at the report release function, noted Indian historian Ramachandra Guha said: “While the report shows that multi-party democracy is firmly rooted in South Asia, there are concerns. Faith in elected bodies is reducing; while faith in unelected bodies, such as judiciary and army, is increasing.” For Guha, the most significant trend is that preference in dictatorship is highest among those between 18 and 25 years and those with a graduate degree.

It seems South Asia is not the only exception. A far-right movement is also gaining ground in Europe. In 2017, four major European Union (EU) countries go to polls and in all of them, right-wing populist leaders are likely to play a crucial role.

In the Netherlands, Party of Freedom candidate Greet Wilders is all set to create trouble for Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his VVD Party in elections to be held on March 15. Wilders, who is famous for his anti-EU and anti-immigration stance, wants to shut mosques and ban the Quran. In Bulgaria, Attack Party leader Volen Siderov could play the role of a kingmaker after the March 26 polls as he has managed to convince people with his anti-semitic, anti-Roma, anti-Muslim, anti-Turkish and anti-globalisation views. Pollsters predict that Marine Le Pen of the National Front will win most April 23 and May 7 votes inFrance, but will fall short of majority. Le Pen has come to the limelight not only for her anti-immigration and anti-EU stand, but also for linking two apparently different issues: immigration and militant Islamism. As far as Germany is concerned, Frauke Petry’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party could emerge as the third largest party after September 24 polls. Petry is in favour of limiting immigration.

However, it is important for South Asian people to find the root cause of problems they are facing and to rebuild faith in democracy

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog – Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: koushik@inserbia.info