Targeting of Local Government Programs and Voting Patterns in West Bengal, India


Voting has come to an end in India's month-long national election
Dilip Mookherjee (Boston University)
Thursday 12 April 2018 at 4:00 - 5:00 pm (Hong Kong time, GMT +8)
IAS 2042, 2/F, Lo Ka Chung Building, Lee Shau Kee Campus, HKUST

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Event Summary

Since the 1990s, we have seen reforms in decentralized governance in India which include the creation of local government institutions and direct elections, with a responsibility to administer programs of poverty reduction, economic security, rural infrastructure and agricultural subsidies. These reforms sought to move the locus of decision-making closer to local communities thereby enhancing information and accountability of decision makers which in turn would improve targeting, reduce waste and corruption. To what extent has local democracy been successful in improving effectiveness of public expenditures in realizing policy goals of poverty reduction, rural development and economic security? In his academic seminar, Dilip Mookherjee (Boston University) presented findings from a project which examined how electoral competition in legislative constituencies affects allocation of resources to local governments, and its subsequent impacts on voter behavior in the state of West Bengal, India between 2003-2011. The project also looked at ways that citizens voted for different parties in a poll administered with secret ballots, and how these related to benefits they received from local governments. This analysis is based on data collected from a household survey conducted in 2004 in a sample of 89 villages drawn from 15 major agricultural districts in West Bengal.

Mookherjee found that higher levels of government manipulated the allocation of different local development/benefit programs to local village governments strategically in response to changes in political competition. Villages with greater land inequality allocated a significantly lower share of benefits to the scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST). Members of these groups have been historically disadvantaged in terms of their social and economic status. Findings also demonstrate that personalized help and short-term benefits had a stronger effect on voter support, compared with infrastructural improvements or more substantial one-time benefits (such as receiving a land title, or getting a tenancy contract registered); voter responses are stronger when they expect incumbents are more likely to be re-elected. This is suggestive of personalized clientelistic relationships with political parties as a source of ensuring continued political support. Such clientelism can distort the democratic process and shift local government allocation from long-run investment in local public goods, which are likely to have greater developmental impact, to short-run private goods and services. These results indicate ways in which governance is distorted owing to the presence of political clientelism.

This research project is conducted by Pranab Bardhan (University of California, Berkeley), Sandip Mitra (Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata), Dilip Mookherjee (Boston University) and Anusha Nath (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and University of Minnesota)

Presentation Slides

About the Speaker 

Dilip Mookherjee is Professor of Economics at Boston University. He received his PhD from the London School of Economics in 1982, and has previously taught at Stanford University and the Indian Statistical Institute. His research interests include development economics, contract and organization theory. Most of his work on development economics focuses on Bangladesh, India, Nepal and China, on topics such as agricultural development; financial inclusion, entrepreneurship and governance. He serves on the Council of the Econometric Society and the Asian Regional Standing Committee, on research management committees of the International Growth Centre and Economic Development and Institutions network, and is co-editor of Theoretical Economics and the blog Ideas For India.


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