Do electoral politics matter in MGNREGA implementation?

Evidence from village council elections in West Bengal

Speaker: Prof. Kunal Sen, University of Manchester
Date: 16 December, 3.30-5.00 p.m.

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In democracies in the developing world, provisioning of social welfare programmes is intrinsically linked to the preference of the political masters. We define 'political nepotism' as a situation when existing ruling party in a democratically government positively discriminates its own party constituencies from other party constituencies in allocating social welfare programmes. In light of allocation of funds for India's flagship programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), we test whether such political nepotism exists and if so, then what are the feedback effects on the following election.

Using village council election data for 2008 and 2013, and MGNREGS expenditure for 2010 to 2012 for a panel of 569 wards (gram sansad) over 49 gram panchayats from three districts of West Bengal, this study tests the existence and effects of political nepotism. The study follows a fuzzy regression discontinuity design as the main quasi-experimental regression design.

The study finds that in general village council level, the ruling-party spends more in their own party constituencies. However, results differ between specific parties. The Trinamool Congress party, for instance, has reaped significant benefit in electoral outcome through political nepotism, whereas the Left party did not seem to behave in this way, lowering their probability of getting re-elected. This finding is a deviation from theory, given the predictions of standard voting models, which says political leaders who are concerned with re-election would focus on delivering benefits to ‘swing voters’ and not the loyalists The results also indicate strong positive feedback effects from successful implementation to electoral rewards, and suggest that better implementation may be a win-win situation for politicians.

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