Working Paper 12/292 - abstract

One Kind of Democracy (PDF, 491kB)

Siwan Anderson, Patrick Francois and Ashok Kotwal

This paper explores the performance of rural governance institutions (Gram Panchayats) in Maharashtra, India. The results of a detailed set of household and village surveys we conducted point to a stunningly robust and participatory democratic process: Elections are freely contested, fairly tallied, highly participatory, non-coerced and lead to political representation believed by voters to strongly reflect their will. However, poverty alleviation schemes (one of the main tasks of rural Gram Panchayats) are patchy and poorly implemented. Beneath this veneer of representative democracy we find evidence of deeply ingrained clientilist structures. These allow land-owning elites of a leading caste (Marathas) to maintain political power which they use to undermine poverty alleviating policies that would redistribute income away from them. We explore theoretically the means by which this caste is able to use its dominance of land-ownership and its traditional position of caste ascendency to achieve political control. The data also allows us to test, both directly and indirectly, differing hypotheses regarding the means by which cultural power (caste) and land ownership yield political power for the elite even in a highly representative, fair and participatory democratic setting.