New Rules for Indian Politics?

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Dr. Milan Vaishnav, Associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, joined us for an IDFCU discussion on "New Rules for Indian Politics?". Watch the video of the conversation and download his presentation below.

The 2014 general election was touted by many as a ‘game changer’ in terms of the magnitude of the election – by level of competitiveness, money spent, voter turnout, and also because the BJP emerged with a strong mandate, earning the first single party majority in three decades. The BJP’s historic victory prompted declarations of a watershed in the electoral behavior of the Indian voter. In this discussion Dr. Vaishnav examined recent electoral trends to decode the new set of guiding principles that Indian politics is now being framed by.

Dr. Vaishnav considered the role of caste, the economy, political identity, and regionalism in shaping voter choices. He explained how there is evidence of change in a couple of dimensions, which has been in the making for sometime now. However, the status quo remains in other dimensions.

He noted that until recently, it was thought that India defied the international trend of having a positive correlation between positive economic growth and how an incumbent performs. It was believed that in India, voters give more preference to things of parochial nature rather than economics. However, Dr. Vaishnav drew on his recent research to explain how this does not hold true anymore, and we are now seeing increasing electoral rewards for positive economic growth – a 1% increase in growth is accompanied by a 7% increase in likelihood of re-election of the incumbent. In fact, Dr. Vaishnav also remarked that there is no variation in this dimension between rural and urban areas, with economic factors weighing most heavily as issues that concern people the most in both.

Dr. Vaishnav also dwelled on the importance of caste in voting choices. While research may indicate that caste does matter to an extent, with people prefering a candidate from their own caste cluster to be elected, he cautioned against simply extending this explanation to what happens on ground.  This explanation is based on the assumption that people can correctly identify the candidate’s caste, which did not hold true according to a CSDS survey, where voters were wrong in identifying the candidate’s caste 1 in 3 times.

Dr. Vaishnav also spoke about other trends like the increasing incidence of ‘princelings’ in parliament. He talked about how dynastic politics has become a pan India phenomenon with 1 in 5 MPs coming from political families. He showed the convergence of male and female voter turnout in 2014, with female turnout surpassing that of males in 16 states.

Watch videos of the discussion:




Milan Vaishnav

Milan Vaishnav is a senior fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His primary research focus is the political economy of India, and he examines issues such as corruption and governance, state capacity, distributive politics, and electoral behavior.

He is the author of When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics (Yale University Press and HarperCollins India, 2017) and co-editor (with Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Devesh Kapur) of Rethinking Public Institutions in India (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is co-editor (with Devesh Kapur) of a forthcoming volume on money and electoral politics in India. His work has also been published in scholarly journals such as Asian Survey, Governance, India Review, and India Policy Forum. He is a regular contributor to several Indian publications. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University.


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