Can Political Parties Improve Minority Welfare? Evidence from India's 'Silent Revolution'
73 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2019 Last revised: 7 Feb 2020
Date Written: October 6, 2018
Electoral quotas guaranteeing a threshold level of political representation for women and underprivileged socio-ethnic/religious minorities have been adopted in over 100 countries. This paper examines how the interaction of such quotas with political party structures affect minority welfare. We examine this question in the context of India, which has a long-standing system of electoral quotas for the representation of historically underprivileged low caste groups, and also witnessed through the 1980s the emergence of caste-based ethnic political parties with an explicit commitment to low caste welfare. Exploiting the outcome of close state legislative assembly elections between caste-based and mainstream parties as a source of exogenous variation, we show that the marginal legislator representing caste-based parties increases low caste households' monthly consumption of subsidized food grains from India's largest safety net program by 4%. Highlighting the importance of political parties' varying interests in redistribution, we show that legislators elected through the electoral quotas -- and thereby hailing from a low caste community by design -- affect redistribution to low-caste households only when they represent caste-based parties; in contrast, legislators elected through the electoral quotas but representing India's other major mainstream parties have virtually no effect on low-caste redistribution. Our results thus highlight an important and under-emphasized role played by the policy preferences of political parties for substantive political representation of socio-ethnic minorities.
Keywords: Ethnic politics; minority representation; electoral quotas; Scheduled Castes/Tribes; redistribution
JEL Classification: H32, H53, H54, I38, J15, O12, O23, P16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation