Mumbai: A majority of Indians prefer political leaders from their own caste, tribe or religion, according to a 2018 study, indicating how identity politics plays a significant role in state and general elections. This was especially so among non-literates across caste and religious groups.

Across eight states--Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Telangana--55% of Indians would prefer a political leader from their own caste and religion, found the study, ‘Politics And Society Between Elections 2018’, carried out by the Azim Premji University (APU) and Lokniti (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies [CSDS]) in 22 assembly constituencies with 16,680 respondents.

No more than 10% would actively choose a political leader from a different caste or religion (9%). A little more than a third of those surveyed said caste (35%) or religion (37%) of their political leader would not matter.

“There is a distrust of leaders from outside the community across all classes, and all caste-class intersections,” the study, accessed by IndiaSpend, said.

“The upper castes in general express the lowest trust in leaders from outside their own.”

Indians with higher education more willing to have leaders of different caste/religion

Caste and religious identity of a political candidate were less likely to make a difference to college-educated persons (47%) compared to non-literates (63%) and those educated up to the school-level (56%), across social groups, according to the study.

For example, while upper castes in general expressed the “lowest trust in leaders from outside their own”, according to the study, this was more so among non-literates (68%) compared to those with schooling (56%) and with college-level education (46%).

Among those educated at the college-level, adivasis or scheduled tribes (as they are constitutionally called), displayed a higher preference for a leader from their own social group (60%). This is six percentage-points lower--lowest among all social groups--than the preference expressed by non-literate adivasis (66%).

Source: Politics And Society Between Elections, 2018, by Azim Premji University and Lokniti (CSDS)

While college-educated Hindus and Muslims were less likely--by 14 and 15 percentage points, respectively--to want a leader from their religion, this preference did not change for Christians: 56% wanted a Christian leader regardless of their education.

College-educated Christians were the least-likely (3%) among all religious groups to prefer a leader from a different religion.

Source: Politics And Society Between Elections, 2018, by Azim Premji University and Lokniti (CSDS)

Caste and religion bias for political leaders highest in Madhya Pradesh, lowest in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana

While 55% of all respondents expressed a bias for a political leader from the same caste and religion, these results varied between states.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed in Madhya Pradesh revealed a desire for a leader from the same caste (65%) and religion (64%)--highest among all states included in the study; states expressing the lowest such desire were Andhra Pradesh (43% for caste, 38% for religion), and Telangana (48% for caste, 46% for religion).

“This suggests some obvious homogeneity between these two contiguous states, only reinforced by the information that they constituted a single territorial entity till mid-2014,” the report said.

Jharkhand and Rajasthan had the most respondents (10%) who said they would actively choose a leader from a different caste or religion.

(Saldanha is an assistant editor with IndiaSpend.)

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