The Politics of Dignity: How Status Inequality shaped Redistributive Politics in India

119 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2021

See all articles by Poulomi Chakrabarti

Poulomi Chakrabarti

Harvard University; Queen's University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 29, 2021


Conventional theories of the welfare state are premised on the preferences of social classes – the wealthy-elite oppose redistribution, while the working-class demand expansive social rights. I argue that in societies with long histories of ascriptive discrimination, social status can be a stronger predictor of redistributive politics than pure material interests. By utilizing a mixed-methods research design and multiple sources of data, including the longest panel on legislator identity, this study examines the policy preferences of the political elite in India. While I do find less support for redistribution among upper-castes, legislators from low-status groups are surprisingly not associated with redistributive spending. Elites from politically mobilized marginal groups have instead pursued representational policies, particularly descriptive representation in the bureaucracy through caste-based quotas, what I call the politics of dignity. I further find evidence that greater representation of marginal groups in the bureaucracy can support redistribution by breaking down upper-caste patronage networks.

Keywords: Ethnic Politics; Inequality; Redistribution; Welfare; Status Politics; Development; India

Suggested Citation

Chakrabarti, Poulomi, The Politics of Dignity: How Status Inequality shaped Redistributive Politics in India (September 29, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Poulomi Chakrabarti (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

61 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Queen's University

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