Political dynasties and vote-buying

Dr Anirban Mitra

Dr Anirban Mitra, Lecturer in Economics, has recently been awarded a British Academy Small Research Grant for his work on political dynasties and vote-buying. Anirban, together with his collaborator in India, Dr Arnab Mukherji (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore), will explore the connections between the issues of political dynasties and vote-buying with the aim of building a database for politicians in the State Legislatures of India to identify their family networks.

The research proposal is below:

Political dynasties exist in many countries – be they democratic or otherwise. Another issue which is salient worldwide is the practice of vote-buying in elections. This entails the use of campaign funds to ‘persuade’ voters – ahead of any impending elections – to cast their votes in a certain way. This is conceptually different from winning over voters through explication of the superiority of one’s policy platforms. It is a form of bribery, and is clearly against the very notion of fairness in democratic procedures. We propose to study the connections between the two issues namely, political dynasties and vote-buying. Specifically, we ask the following questions: to what extent is vote-buying linked to the existence political dynasties? Does the institution of political dynasties lead to a greater surge in vote-buying activities or not? Can this putative link shed light on the mechanisms shaping the organisation of political parties?

We propose to start building a database for politicians in the State Legislatures of India which would identify their family networks. Clearly, doing it for all the major states in India would require vast amounts of resources (including time) though undoubtedly such a database would be of considerable value to social scientists working on India. We propose to start work on three populous states in India – namely, Bihar, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. This would allow us to work with a sample of 870 electoral constituencies followed over a decade; hence, allowing for around 2 elections in each constituency.

We plan to utilise this database to assess the implications for public goods provision (specifically, investments in health and education among other items) arising from the presence of political dynasties. We also hope to delve into the question as to how informal institutional features (like family structure, gender norms, etc.) may be crucial in determining how political dynasties arise in some societies and not others. This work will be critically dependent upon our understanding of the network of family ties that pervade the Indian political system.