Caste Politics, Credibility and Criminality: Political Selection in India

Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 2 Nov 2015

See all articles by Milan Vaishnav

Milan Vaishnav

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Date Written: 2011


This paper explores the conditions under which political parties select candidates with serious criminal records to contest democratic elections in the world’s largest democracy. I argue that indicted politicians benefit parties when they can exploit social divisions to build a compelling case that their criminality gives them an edge in serving the interests of their fellow co-ethnics. In particular, I hypothesize that criminality is likely to be lower in constituencies constitutionally reserved for protected minorities and in indirectly elected bodies, where caste divisions are less salient. In reserved constituencies, however, the salience of caste is likely to vary with the size of the minority population. Using a unique dataset drawn from candidate affidavits, this paper finds support for these hypotheses. This paper serves as a reminder that the “criminalization” of politics is not a monolithic phenomenon, but is highly contextual.

Keywords: criminality, corruption, reservation, political selection, India

Suggested Citation

Vaishnav, Milan, Caste Politics, Credibility and Criminality: Political Selection in India (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Milan Vaishnav (Contact Author)

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ( email )

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Washington, DC 20036
United States


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