Democracy in South Asia: An Expanding ‘Imagination’

Published date01 June 2023
AuthorSandeep Shastri
Date01 June 2023
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Democracy in South Asia:
An Expanding ‘Imagination’
Sandeep Shastri1,2
Democracy has become an accepted lexicon among ruling elites and the general public through the
twentieth century. However, there are also doubts about its strength in the current century. Looking
at survey data, this article attempts a first-cut analysis of citizens’ commitment to democracy. Taking
an elected government as the primary principle of democracy, do citizens make concessions to non-
elected decision-making processes? This article focuses on the five countries of South Asia to answer
this question and arrives at the conclusion that there is often a large gap between a broader acceptance
of democratic government as a principle and the more nuanced acceptance of democratic government
as a necessary element of democracy.
Democracy, support for democracy, satisfaction with government, South Asia
The five countries of South Asia—Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—account for close to
one-fourth of the world’s population (2022 United Nations Revised Population Estimates).3 Since 2003,4 all
of them have had formal democratic processes in operation. While India and Sri Lanka have had, more or
less, uninterrupted democratic processes since their independence, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have
seen phases of non-democratic governments also. This article seeks to explore the spread of the ‘idea’ of
democracy in this region as also the expansion of the ‘imagination’ of democracy in the five countries.
To undertake this analysis, the article uses empirical data gathered from the first two rounds of the
State of Democracy in South Asia (SDSA) study and the third round conducted in Bangladesh, India and
Sri Lanka.5 These data allow an exploration of democracy from the lens of the citizen. A common
NITTE Education Trust, Deralakatte, Mangaluru, Karnataka, India
Lokniti Network, Delhi, India
While Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Iran are often included in descriptions of the South Asia region, this study limits its
analysis to ve countries for reasons specied later in the article.
2003 saw a return to democracy in Pakistan and in 2008, a democratically elected government was the rst to complete a full
ve-year term followed by an election which again ushered in a democratically elected government.
Lokniti-CSDS conducted the rst round of the comparative assessment of the State of Democracy in South Asia (SDSA) in
2004–2005 and published the report in 2008 (SDSA; de Souza et al., 2008). The second round of the study was undertaken in 2013
Original Article
Studies in Indian Politics
11(1) 39–48, 2023
© 2023 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230231166193
Corresponding author:
Sandeep Shastri, NITTE Education Trust, NMIT Campus, Yelahanka, Bangalore, Karnataka, 560064 India; Lokniti
Network, Delhi 110054 India.

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