ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Local Democracy and Clientelism: Implications for Political Stability in Rural West Bengal

This paper examines factors underlying the unusual stability of political power in rural West Bengal, using data pertaining to the functioning of local democracy from a household survey conducted by the authors during 2003-05. It examines patterns of political awareness, participation, distribution of benefits by gram panchayats, and voting across households of varying socio-economic characteristics. The main findings are that (i) political participation was high on average; (ii) within villages panchayat benefits flowed to poor and scheduled caste/scheduled tribe groups on par or better, compared with the rest of the population; (iii) distribution of benefits across villages was biased against those with more landless households; and (iv) the lasting political success of the Left owed partly to a clientelist relationship of the party with the voters, and partly to the gratitude of voters of low socio-economic status arising out of broad-based changes.


Local Democracy and Clientelism: Implications for Political Stability in Rural West Bengal

Pranab Bardhan, Sandip Mitra, Dilip Mookherjee, Abhirup Sarkar

This paper examines factors underlying the unusual stability of political power in rural West Bengal, using data pertaining to the functioning of local democracy from a household survey conducted by the authors during 2003-05. It examines patterns of political awareness, participation, distribution of benefits by gram panchayats, and voting across households of varying socio-economic characteristics. The main findings are that (i) political participation was high on average; (ii) within villages panchayat benefits flowed to poor and scheduled caste/scheduled tribe groups on par or better, compared with the rest of the population;

(iii) distribution of benefits across villages was biased against those with more landless households; and

(iv) the lasting political success of the Left owed partly to a clientelist relationship of the party with the voters, and partly to the gratitude of voters of low socio-economic status arising out of broad-based changes.

This paper was based on a household survey funded by a research grant to Sandip Mitra and Abhirup Sarkar from the Economic Research Unit of Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. We are grateful to Rashmi Barua for excellent research assistance.

Pranab Bardhan ( is with the Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley, US. Sandip Mitra ( is with the Economic Research Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Dilip Mookherjee ( is with the Department of Economics, Boston University, Boston, US and Abhirup Sarkar ( is with the Economic Research Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

mongst all Indian states, West Bengal is the only one in which a single political party has uninterruptedly been in power at state and local levels of government over the past three decades. With some moderate fluctuations, the political supremacy of the Left Front has been maintained in both panchayat and assembly elections throughout the period 1977-2006. This is clear from Figures 1 and 2 (p 47). The seat shares of the Left reached a peak around 1987-88 and trended downward for three consecutive elections thereafter. But in the 2003 panchayat elections and 2006 assembly elections they picked up again so that no discernable downward (or upward) trend was present for the period as a whole. The purpose of the present paper is to understand and explain this unusual political stability on the basis of a household survey conducted by the authors during 2003-05.

1 Introduction

The long lasting political supremacy of the Left in West Bengal received a jolt in the recently-held panchayat elections of 2008. In 2003, 71% gram panchayats, 86% panchayat samitis and 88% zilla parishads were controlled by the Left. In 2008, these proportions were reduced to 49% for gram panchayats, 69% for panchayat samitis and 76% for zilla parishads. But, as Figures 1 and 2 would testify, there was no indication of this decline before 2006. In other words, this decline in Left supremacy has been sudden rather than gradual. Events after 2006 must have prompted this abrupt change: the most obvious and noticeable event likely to have been responsible for this transformation of public sentiment is the attempt of the government to acquire agricultural land for industrialisation. However, our survey, which was conducted before 2006 cannot capture the effects of this event. Our purpose, therefore, is to explain the long political supremacy of the Left in West Bengal during 1977-2006. However, we make some very brief comments about the change in voting pattern in 2008 in the concluding section of the paper.

This supremacy is difficult to explain on the basis of economic performance alone. The performance of West Bengal on the economic front has hardly been extraordinary compared to other Indian states since the late 1970s, when the Left Front government first began to dominate the political landscape. It is, of course, true that during the 1980s the state witnessed a spectacular growth in agricultural production, particularly in foodgrains, which raised incomes and spread prosperity in rural areas. But for various reasons this upward trend started tapering off from the beginning of the 1990s. At the beginning of the new century, the level of living in rural West Bengal stood in the neighbourhood of

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

that of the average Indian village. The 2001 National H uman Development Report of Indian states reveal that by some indicators the state was below the all India average, while by some

o thers it was above. But in neither case was the divergence significant.1 To this one may add the steady decline of the formal

Figure 1: Seat Share of Left Front in Three-Tier Panchayat Elections (1978-2003)

Zilla parishad

90 80 70 60 Gram panchayat Panchayat samiti

50 40 1978 1983 1988 1993 1998 2003

Figure 2: Left Front Seats in Assembly Elections (1978-2003) 300


Number of seats 200

150 1977 1982 1987 1991 1996 2001 2006

i ndustrial sector in West Bengal during the 1980s and the 1990s. So one is faced with the non-trivial task of explaining the unusual political durability of the Left Front in the state. Of course, there may have been important distributional changes favouring the large majority of the rural population composed of the poor: e g, gratitude for the land reforms implemented mainly in the 1980s may have played a positive role in the Left Front winning elections. The agricultural growth of that period may also have been credited to the ruling party, which, in turn, could have given rise to a feeling of gratitude that survived the stagnation of the 1990s. But these hypotheses deserve careful scrutiny.

One particular achievement often attributed to the Left Front is that it introduced and subsequently maintained a genuine grass roots democracy in rural West Bengal. This involved decentralisation of rural power through a well functioning panchayat raj, well in advance of most other Indian states. It is frequently claimed that the hierarchical power structure existing prior to the advent of Left Front rule in rural areas was replaced by a more democratic structure where the poor and the underprivileged were enabled to play an active role in local decision-making within villages. As a consequence, they acquired a life of dignity hitherto unknown to them, and a form of economic security not and the underprivileged. On the other hand, it requires a proper targeting of government benefits, through the panchayat system, towards the socially disadvantaged. On the basis of a survey conducted in 2003-05 of 2,400 households in 88 villages of West Bengal, we investigate the extent to which this was the case. We investigate, for example, the roles of wealth, caste, education and gender in determining political participation at the local level. In particular, we check if the poor or the socially disadvantaged in rural West Bengal were less aware of government actions or political realities in comparison with more privileged counterparts. We also examine how political participation (ranging from participation in elections, village meetings, political campaigns, to direct financial contributions to political parties and placing demands in village panchayat meetings) varied significantly with economic or social status. Finally, we examine both inter-village and intravillage benefit delivery patterns to discover how local governments distributed benefits in various developmental programmes across diverse economic and social classes, and whether these distributions reflected political partisanship in any manner.

We find high average levels of political participation in elections, village meetings and political campaigns, exposure to the media, political awareness and awareness of programmes a dministered by the gram panchayats (GP). These results are c onsistent with findings for other Indian states (e g, by Krishna (2006) for Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) or for many Latin American countries (e g, Gaviria et al (2002)). But more importantly, apart from education, gender and immigration status, s ocio-economically weaker sections of the population were at least as likely to participate in local politics compared to others. Indeed, after controlling for household land, education and i mmigrant status, households belonging to SC and ST communities exhibited significantly higher levels of attendance and active participation in gram sabhas, as well as in contributions to p olitical campaigns.

Our study also reveals that the distribution of benefits within a village exhibited a bias in favour of SC/ST groups and those with less education, and no bias with respect to either more or less land owned. However, comparisons across villages show that v illages with a higher proportions of landless households received lower benefits per household. These results suggest greater accountability to the poor within the lowest level of local governments, compared with higher levels of government (i e, at the block or district levels) that allocate programmes across different gram panchayats. These results are consistent with the findings in Bardhan and Mookherjee (2006) which were based on village panel data collected directly from official records of local

reflected in aggregate measures of economic well-being

Table 1: Characteristics of Sample Households

for the state. Clearly, if this claim turns out to be correct, Agricultural Landownership % in Age % Male Maximum % SC % ST % Agriculture % Sample Education in Occupation Immigrants

it could explain the political success of the Left Front in


terms of good governance and a well functioning grass

Landless 50.54 45 88 6.6 35 2.4 26 40

roots level democracy. Is the hypothesis of good govern

0 to 1.5 acres 27.39 48 88 7.8 34 4.9 65 17 ance supported by actual data? 1.5 to 2.5 acres 3.96 56 92 10.8 15 7.4 82 19

The present paper examines the functioning of local 2.5 to 5 acres 10.74 58 93 11.1 24 3.1 72 10
democracy in rural West Bengal under Left Front rule. A 5 to 10 acres 6.16 60 89 12.5 22 4.1 66 12
well functioning democracy entails, on the one hand, 10 acres and above 1.21 59 100 13.9 24 6.9 72 14
p olitical awareness and political participation of the poor All 100 49 89 8.0 32 3.4 47 28
Economic & Political Weekly february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9 47

g overnments. Finally, our study indicates that village meetings may have provided a channel of accountability of GPs to the poor and low caste groups. However, it does not necessarily indicate a causal impact of village meetings on targeting of benefits: the results are equally consistent with the hypothesis that village meeting participation and targeting both reflected the effect of deeper unobserved characteristics of the community such as social capital.

Can we infer that the pattern of benefit

In Sarkar (2006) it was suggested that the overall economic stagnation in West Bengal had actually helped the ruling Left Front to remain in power. Economic stagnation has severely limited the economic opportunities open to the citizens making many of them crucially dependent on the ruling party for small favours giving rise to a political society (a concept developed by Chatterjee (2004) in a somewhat different context) where poli

tics is an integral part of the survival strat-

Table 2: Political Awareness

distribution was consistent with good gov-Agricultural Land- Average Score % Exposed % Exposed egy of the members. This dependence, in ownership (Out of 6) to Radio to TV

ernance? Relative to several other states turn, is argued by Sarkar to have induced a

Landless 4.21 30 31

and relative to what the situation was in sizeable chunk of the population to vote for

0 to 1.5 acres 4.56 34 32

West Bengal before, the distribution of ben-the Left. This hypothesis suggests there

1.5 to 2.5 acres 5.16 36 55

efits within a village (or GP) did not show fore that had there been more economic

2.5 to 5 acres 4.99 36 51

any significant bias against the poor or the growth (especially more expansion in the

5 to 10 acres 5.24 46 68

socially disadvantaged. In this sense West formal industrial sector), the extent of this

10 acres and above 5.27 48 72

Bengal is marked by a remarkable absence dependence would have been much less

All 4.50 33.18 37.15

of “local capture” by the elite which is one and the chances of the ruling Left to re
of the persistent problems in decentralisation experiences all main in power would have been substantially reduced.
over the world. But at the inter-village level there seems to be an Some of the services that the ruling party could potentially
effective anti-poor bias in the actual allocation of benefits. It is distribute as political favours were precisely the kind of benefits
not clear if this is a problem in the implementation of the criteria that are usually distributed through the panchayats. We examine
laid down for inter-GP allotments in the State Finance Commis whether the data is consistent with the claim that the Left Front
sion reports. These criteria and the methods of their implementa received consistent support from voters by distributing these
tion are not widely known, nor even to panchayat officials. Lack benefits to its politically loyal clients. In this context we can think
Table 3: Awareness of GP Programmes (% of households) of three levels of political clientelism-cum-loyalty of households
Agricultural Landownership Current GP Prog Past Loan Prog Seed Prog Employment Prog towards the Left. The weakest involves voting behaviour alone,
Landless 8.8 16.2 4.7 10.4 whereby favours received from the GP are returned by voting for
0 to 1.5 acres 11.5 25.5 20.2 13.8 the party locally in power. This hypothesis of course has the
1.5 to 2.5 acres 12.6 25.2 30.5 8.4 problem of explaining how voters signal their allegiance in a se
2.5 to 5 acres 12.4 18.6 18.8 8.1 5 to 10 acres 11.4 10.8 16.9 14.8 10 acres and above 13.8 27.6 24.1 17.2 cret ballot. In light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that our survey reveals that households voting Left without any other politi-
All 10.30 19.16 12.46 11.35 cal involvement did not get any extra benefits from Left-domi
nated panchayats.
of local information on the inter-village allocation may have min- A more visible form of political loyalty involves attendance in
imised the loss of political support that the inter-village bias may political meetings. We discovered in our survey that within a vil
have potentially entailed. lage the households regularly attending political meetings got
Can we explain the unusual political stability in West Bengal more benefits on an average than others that did not attend these
by the lack of capture of local governments by local elites alone? meetings regularly. This finding certainly suggests the presence
In fact, a section of the media ascribes the success of the Left of clientelism. But surprisingly, a higher form of political involve-
Front instead to coercion and malpractices during elections. It is ment, namely, taking an active part in political campaigns,
frequently alleged that the formidable election machinery of the showed a negative and significant correlation with getting bene-
Left has been primarily responsible for winning elections, and fits. Anecdotes picked up in the field suggest that those campaign
this was largely achieved through unscrupulous means. For the ing actively for the locally dominant party may have received
entire population in our survey about 5% reported disturbance fewer benefits partly because they wanted to project a clean im
during elections and another 8% chose to remain silent on the age of the party and partly because benefits distributed through
issue. Only four households in the entire sample reported not be panchayats were small in comparison with other hidden rewards
ing able to cast their vote because of fear of disturbances, or be offered to them outside the ambit of the panchayat-administered
cause they discovered their vote had already been cast by some programmes.
one else, or because they had to wait too long at the polling booth. Finally, attendance in gram sabha (GS) meetings displayed
Our survey results suggest that while there may be some sub a significant positive association with receipt of benefits. This
stance to the allegations made in the media, they do not support by itself may signal good governance. But it is open to alternative
the claim that elections were won primarily owing to these mal interpretations, given the fact that GS attendance was positively
practices. For instance, the polling disturbances were reported correlated with voting Left. One possible interpretation could
(or the respondents refused to comment) disproportionately be that GSs were dominated by Left supporters who used them
among poorer, landless households, who typically vote in favour as a platform to get more benefits. Others did not attend GSs
of the Left. Thus we have to look for other explanations. because they knew that their demands would not be
48 february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9 Economic & Political Weekly

entertained. On the other hand, the evidence is also benefits (and not one-time benefits) mattered in getting votes consistent with the explanation that the Left were particularly points further to the possibility that the pattern reflected clientesuccessful in organising and p ersuading their supporters to lism rather than voter gratitude arising out of good governance. a ttend GSs where they placed d emands and received benefits On the other hand, gratitude did play a role at different levels. s ubsequently. Controlling for all other effects, the incidence of belonging to SC/

To obtain a better clue to the political stability puzzle, at the ST and having less land or education increased the probability of end of our survey we conducted a secret ballot where respond-voting Left. Most probably, this picks up the effects of broad-based

ents indicated their preferences across po-Table 4: Sources of Information Regarding social changes implemented during the Left GP Programmes (%)

litical parties active in the local area. Vot-rule. Especially with regard to the opportu-

Agricultural Land-Panchayat Political Friends and ing patterns among the surveyed house-ownership Members Activists Relatives nity to participate in local democracy and

holds reveal several statistically significant Landless 43 22 34 lead a more dignified life under the Left

tendencies. First, there is a clear and posi-0 to 1.5 acres 43 26 29 Front, especially compared with what they

tive statistical association between voting 1.5 to 2.5 acres 48 18 32 had been historically accustomed to before

for the Left and having less land, less edu-2.5 to 5 acres 43 23 33 the Left came to power. In fact we found 5 to 10 acres 40 21 38

cation or belonging to SC or ST groups. In that almost one half of the total population,

10 acres and above 61 23 23

other words, less wealthy, less educated comprising predominantly of SC/ST groups and socially disadvantaged groups exhibited a greater inclination and the landless, constituted a secure vote bank for the Left, having to vote for the Left. voted in their favour consistently over the past quarter century.

Second, the likelihood of voting for the Left increased with Given this, the Left needed to secure only a fraction of the rebenefits received from programmes administered by previous maining swing voters in order to win an absolute majority. Hence, Left dominated local governments. But not Table 5: Political Participation (% of households) everything taken together, the survey re

all benefits mattered equally in this respect. Agricultural Land- Attending Participating Making sults indicate the political success of the
We found that receipt of recurring benefits ownership Political Meetings in Campaigns Financial Contributions Left reflects a combination of clientelism as
like Integrated Rural Development Pro- Landless 43 23 61 well as gratitude among poor and vulnera
gramme (IRDP), credit, minikits, employ 0 to 1.5 acres 55 30 74 ble sections arising out of broad-based
ment and relief programmes had a positive 1.5 to 2.5 acres 49 23 77 s ocial and economic changes.
correlation with voting for the Left. On the 2.5 to 5 acres 53 32 79 The rest of the paper is organised as fol
other hand, one-time benefits like housing, 5 to 10 acres 49 29 84 lows. We give a general description of our
supply of water, building of roads or provi 10 acres and above 65 38 93 survey and the data in Section 2. Section 3
sion of ration cards were not associated in All 48 26 69 examines political participation and aware

any systematic manner with voting patterns. In addition to recurring benefits, help provided by GPs in overcoming difficulties faced in one’s occupation, and in times of personal emergency in Left dominated local governments were positively associated with voting in favour of the Left.

Third, improvement in agricultural fortunes over the period 1978-2004 were significantly associated with a higher likelihood of voting Left in Left Front dominated panchayats. It is possible this reflected the role of favours granted by local governments, either through land reforms, distribution of minikits, or improvements in irrigation facilities. The latter largely involved building of shallow and deep tube wells through private initiative. However during periods of peak demand the panchayat played a role in the distribution of water and in resolution of related conflicts. Moreover, we collected stories about private owners with permits for installing shallow tube wells actually installing deep tube wells and the panchayat looking the other way. In short, building irrigation facilities and distribution of irrigation water involved direct and indirect panchayat help and may have been treated as recurring benefits and political favour.

What can we infer from all this? We have seen above that those who regularly attended political meetings on average got more benefits than others who did not. The former were not small in number. In our sample, election meetings were attended by a pproximately 48% of the population. Presumably a large fraction of them voted for the Left coalition. The fact that only recurring

Economic & Political Weekly

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

ness of the citizens, and how they were related to measures of socio-economic status. Section 4 studies targeting of benefits d isbursed by local governments and Section 5 examines voting patterns. Finally, Section 6 concludes the paper.

2 Survey and Household Characteristics

Our results are based on a survey of 2,400 rural households in a sample of 85 villages in West Bengal. The survey was carried out in 2003-05. Our village sample is actually a sub-sample of a larger stratified sample of villages selected from all districts of the state except Kolkata and Darjeeling. The original sample was drawn by the Socio-Economic Evaluation Branch of the Department of Agriculture, Government of West Bengal, for the purpose of calculating cost of cultivation of major crops in the state between 1981 and 1996. A more detailed description of this sample can be found in Bardhan and Mookherjee (2004, 2006).

A random sample of blocks within each district was selected, and within each block one village was selected randomly. This was followed by a random selection of another village within an 8 km radius. Our survey teams visited these villages between 2003 and 2005 and as a first step carried out a listing of landholdings of every household. Next, households were stratified according to their landholdings and on the basis of this stratification, a stratified random sample was selected of 25 households per village on an average. Selected households were then administered a survey questionnaire. The questions pertained to demographic,

economic and political characteristics of the respondents. A summary of sample characteristics is presented in Table 1 (p 47).
Apart from caste, age distribution, landholding and asset holding Landownership seems to be the most natural criterion on the
of the households, we collected data on the benefits received b asis of which these rural households can be classified into dif
by them from the panchayat. We also asked questions related ferent wealth categories. Accordingly we classify the households
to media exposure, political awareness and participation, into six categories: landless, marginal (0 to 1.5 acres), small (1.5
and voting behaviour. Finally, at the end of the survey we to 2.5 acres), medium (2.5 to 5 acres), large (5 to 10 acres) and big
gave the respondents mock ballot papers with imprinted (above 10 acres). In our sample, landless households along with
symbols of political parties and asked them to indicate their small and marginal farmers constitute more than 80% of the total
political preference. households. Again, SCs and STs together account for about 35% of
Our survey is distinctive in two different ways. First, the households and the percentage is significantly higher among the
N ational Election Surveys in India use household surveys to landless and the marginal farmers. Finally, 47% of the house
measure political participation, attitude and preference, but with holds have agriculture as their primary occupation. Maximum
Table 6: Political Activity Regressions: Attendance, Participation and Contribution education in a household refers to the maximum completed years
(Conditional Logits) in school across all members of the household. As expected, this
Attendance Participation Contribution Contribution (Village Fixed (Village Fixed to Political to Political maximum increased with the size of landownership. Age and sex
Effects) Effects) Campaigns (No Village Campaigns (Village refer to those of the household head who was the usual respond-
Fixed Effects) Fixed Effects) Agricultural land -.076*** -.038 .049 .065* ent of the interview. Finally, we classify a household as immi
(.028) (.026) (.032) (.038) grant if it migrated into the village after 1967. Again, as expected,
Other land .141 -.031 .458** .231 (.101) (.089) (.216) (.171) incidence of migration is the highest among the landless.
Agriculture-occupation .240** .139 .150 -.044 3 Political Awareness and Participation
(.105) (.114) (.101) (.123) Immigrant -.274** -.344*** .102 .028 We examined two different measures of general political aware
(.111) (.125) (.106) (.129) ness among the surveyed households. First, the respondents were
Max education in hh .044*** .067*** .096*** .103*** asked a few questions3 about the general political environment
(.013) (.014) (.012) (.015) the answers to which could be correct or incorrect. On the basis
ST 1.237*** -.492 .781** .206 of the number of correct answers given, a composite score of gen
(.374) (.355) (.309) (.407) SC .567*** .208* .601*** .079 eral political awareness was calculated for each household in a
(.134) (.124) (.124) (.152) 6-point scale. A second measure of political awareness that we
Male .407** .448** .371** .435** looked at was media exposure. We asked the respondents
(.185) (.192) (.152) (.196) whether they watched political and economic news on the televi-
Age .010 -.006 -.001 .065** sion on a regular basis. Similar questions were asked about the
(.019) (.021) (.003) (.022) Other land* North Bengal -.187 .219 -.747** -.701* radio. The results regarding political awareness are reported in
dummy (.238) (.322) (.324) (.374) Table 2 (p 48). As one might expect, political awareness by all the
SC* North Bengal dummy -.605*** -.138 three measures increased with the size of landholding. General
(.224) (.296) political awareness, as is evident from the second column, was
Male* North Bengal -2.145*** -1.297 quite high. As for media exposure, exposure to radio was less dis
dummy (.615) (.846) persed across various size classes than exposure to television.
Agriculture land* .206*** .120 North Bengal dummy (.070) (.085) F inally, except for the marginal farmers, exposure to television
No of observations 2384/87 2353/84 2400 was higher in all the other categories than exposure to television.
Pseudo-R2/p-value .06/0.00 Apart from general political awareness, we investigated the
Std errors are reported in parentheses. ***, **, * denotes significant at 1%, 5%, 10%, respectively. extent to which households of different classes were aware of
very few exceptions political behaviour is not usually related to various development or antipoverty programmes administered
socio-economic characteristics of the household.2 Our survey fills by the GPs. As Table 3 (p 48) reveals, awareness about GP devel
this gap. Second, the National Election Surveys focus on national opment programmes was quite low on an average. Taking raw
level elections rather than on processes of local governance. In averages for each group, we see that except for big landowners,
contrast, the purpose of our survey is to understand politico information about an average programme is available to less than
economic forces in local governance at the grass roots level. 20% households in each group and for big landlords the figure is
Studies of political participation in local governments have just above 20%. On the other hand, none of the programmes was
been carried out for three different districts each of Rajasthan known, on an average, to more than 20% households.
and Madhya Pradesh by Krishna (2006), and two Karnataka dis- We shall see below that for most programmes administered by
tricts by Crook and Manor (1998). Ghatak and Ghatak (2002) the GPs, only a very small proportion of households reported re
have studied participation in village meetings (gram sansads) in ceiving benefits under that programme. Indeed the average pro
a sample of 20 villages in Birbhum district of West Bengal. Our portion of households that reported to have received benefits
survey complements these studies. In addition, it becomes espe from any single programme did not exceed 4% and only in a
cially relevant because it helps us analyse and understand politi small number of programmes reported benefit rates exceeded
cal stability in West Bengal. 1%. The low level of awareness about GP programmes may have
50 february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9 Economic & Political Weekly

been caused by the low level of coverage of the development pro-A more active form of political participation is taking part in grammes. Equally likely, low levels of awareness caused develop-political campaigns. Approximately 26% of all households were ment programmes remain limited in coverage and scale. Finally, actively involved in campaigns and the proportions were more a two-way causation with low awareness limiting development evenly distributed across different land classes than the distribuprogrammes and limited programmes causing low awareness tion of financial contributions. However, the difference in involvecannot be ruled out either. ment in political campaigns appears to be sharper if one compares

Table 3 reveals that awareness of anti-poverty development the landless with big landowners. The contrast suggests that West schemes was uniformly higher in the highest strata of landhold-Bengal grass root politics is yet to be completely free from elitist ing, compared to the landless. In the middle tiers awareness was domination. It may be mentioned that the proportion of house

more for some programmes and less for Table 7: Gram Sabha Attendance and Participation holds involved in political campaigns in

(% of households)

others and in general across different pro-West Bengal is similar to that in Karnataka

Agricultural Land-Attending Gram Participating in grammes awareness varied with need and/ ownership Sabha Gram Sabha districts studied by Crook and Manor (1998)

or entitlement. Landless households were Landless 33 6.5 (where it was 23%), but lower than that in

more aware of loan and employment pro-0 to 1.5 acres 44 13.8 Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh districts stud

1.5 to 2.5 acres 50 19.8

grammes, marginal landowners more ied by Krishna (2006) (where it was 43%).

2.5 to 5 acres 38 18.7

aware of loan and seed programmes that Finally, attendance in political meetings

5 to 10 acres 35 15.5

they only will find useful. was quite high, averaging 48% across the

10 acres and above 44 37.9

Sources of information concerning GP ac-population, and much higher than the cor-

All 37 11.3

tivities varied little across landowning groups as Table 4 (p 49) illustrates. For all classes except the highest landholding class, panchayat members were an important source of information, closely followed by friends and relatives. On the other hand, big landowners, comprising of top 1% of the landowning class, seemed to depend a lot more on panchayat members than on peer groups. This points to an extraordinary closeness between panchayat members and the top landowning class and somewhat contradicts the popular perception about the plebeian character of West Bengal panchayats. Finally, political activists have also been instrumental in disseminating information, but their role in this respect has been more or less uniform across all classes including the topmost.

Next, we consider political participation. We looked at three types of political activities: attending political rallies and meetings, taking an active part in political campaigns, and making financial contribution to political parties. The profile of political participation is presented in Table 5 (p 49).

On average, political participation was high. This is most pronounced in the inclination for making financial contributions to political parties. An astounding 69% of all households reported making financial contributions to political parties, the proportion increasing uniformly with landholding. Even within the landless, a proportion as high as 61% made financial contributions and the number rose to 93% for the highest strata. Anecdotes suggest that a significant part of these financial contributions is made to buy political protection against unforeseen emergencies. A general perception is that situations like illness in the family requiring h ospitalisation or a dispute with a neighbour requiring mediation can be handled more smoothly if some political help is available.

Table 8: Percentages of Households Receiving Different Benefits

responding attendance rate of 33% reported for Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh by Krishna (2006). Attendance rates were higher than 40% for all landowning groups and like the proportion of participation in political campaigns did not exhibit any monotonic increase with the size of landholding. However, similar to campaign participation p atterns, there is a significant difference in attendance rates b etween the landless and the top 1% of the landowning class, suggesting once again that rural politics in West Bengal is not quite free from the influence of the big landowning class as yet. Perhaps superior education plays a crucial part in assigning the landed a key role in rural politics.

But if we control for other characteristics like education, landholding, age and gender of respondent, we find that the probability of political participation (by all the three measures) significantly increased if the household belonged to the SC or ST category. This is clear from the regressions we run for explaining p olitical activity. The detailed regression results are reported in T able 6 (p 50). Our findings of the involvement of the SC and ST groups in rural politics corroborates accounts by Ruud (1999, 2003) of increasingly active role played by some SC groups in the village politics in some districts of West Bengal. Similarly, our regressions reveal that education significantly increased the chance of active political involvement, controlling for other household characteristics. Moreover, political participation showed a distinct gender bias; being a male clearly increased the probability of political participation, other things remaining the same. Finally, if we control for education and other characteristics, the chance of attending political meetings decreases and that of making political contribution increases with the size of landholding – i e, ceteris paribus big landholders prefer to express their political loyalty by making financial contribution than spending time in political rallies.

House Water % HH recd benefits (1978-1997) 1.29 23.78 % HH recd benefits (1998-2005) 3.0 23.41 Fraction of benefits accruing to SC/ST (1978-1997) 67.74 32.22 Fraction of benefits accruing to SC/ST (1998-2004) 52.77 37.72 Fraction of benefits accruing to landless (1978-1997) 64.5 49.39 Fraction of benefits accruing to landless (1998-2005) 65.28 53.5 Economic & Political Weekly february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9 Employment 1.67 5.21 0.40 49.41 52.5 44.89 Minikits 2.42 5.0 32.76 46.67 15.51 12.5 IRDP 6.66 2.33 0.45 55.36 48.13 46.43 Road 9.7 32.11 33.48 32.68 49.78 43.84 Relief 1.64 11.91 45.71 35.66 57.14 68.5 Ration Card 27.16 12.33 33.44 32.43 46.32 43.92 51

One other important thing to notice from Table 6 is effect of the SC dummy interacting negatively with a North Bengal dummy. And the opposite is true for agricultural land owned: its effect on political contributions is significantly higher in North

Table 9: OLS Regression of Number of Benefits on Household Characteristics

(1998-2004, with village fixed effects)

(1) (2) (3)
Number of Benefits Number of One Time Number of Recurring
Received by Households Benefits Benefits
Education -0.040*** (0.006) -0.032*** (0.005) 0.000 (0.003)
ST 0.502*** (0.139) 0.292*** (0.111) 0.096* (0.058)
SC 0.181*** (0.053) 0.074* (0.043) 0.081*** (0.022)
Male 0.063 (0.072) 0.028 (0.057) 0.040 (0.030)
Immigrant -0.085 (0.052) -0.061 (0.042) -0.046** (0.022)
Agricultural land -0.015 (0.012) -0.020** (0.009) 0.000 (0.005)
Non-agricultural land -0.058 (0.039) -0.051 (0.032) 0.003 (0.016)
Age 0.010 (0.009) 0.008 (0.007) 0.014*** (0.004)
Age squared -0.000 (0.000) -0.000 (0.000) -0.000*** (0.000)
Constant 1.182*** (0.246) 1.016*** (0.198) -0.238** (0.103)
Observations 2,399 2,401 2,401
Number of villages 89 89 89
R-squared 0.05 0.05 0.01

Std errors are reported in parentheses. ***, **, * denote significant at 1%, 5%, 10%, respectively.

Bengal. This would mean that in North Bengal, political participation among the SCs is significantly lower and large landowners contribute more to campaigns. It may be mentioned that parts of North Bengal continue to be the traditional Congress base and our results indicate that politics in these parts of the state is still controlled by higher castes and big landowners.

Yet another form of political participation is attendance in GS. We have looked at two variants of this form of political participation: just attending a GS, and speaking or asking questions in a GS. Evidently the second variant, which we call participation in GS, is a deeper form of political participation than the first. Table 7 (p 51) records the two forms of GS involvement across different landowning classes.

Table 7 reveals that more than one-third of the population reported attending village meetings, which discussed matters relating to local government activities, within the previous three years of the survey. The proportion is high compared with 17% in the Karnataka districts studied by Crook and Manor (1998). Attendance rates do not show any clear pattern across landowning classes. In contrast, proportion of households standing up to speak or ask questions at the GS is just above 11%, and there is a notable difference in participation rates between the extreme ends of the landholding spectrum. The figures seem to suggest that while attendance rates in village meetings did not vary with respect to landholding, the big farmers were certainly ahead of the rest as far as standing up and speaking in a GS was concerned. Once more this was probably due to a superior education level of the big landowners. Regression results on GS attendance and participation (reported in our companion paper Bardhan et al 2008) confirm that the maximum level of education in the household is significantly associated with GS participation and to a lesser e xtent with GS attendance.

We conclude this section by noting that both political awareness as well as political participation is reasonably high on an a verage in rural West Bengal. The awareness and participation, however, varied across landholding classes and education. Controlling for education and landholding, the probability of political participation significantly increased when the household b elonged to either the SC or the ST community.

4 Intra-Village and Inter-Village Distribution of Benefits

Next we examine the extent to which rural households of West Bengal could utilise political participation and awareness to obtain actual benefits from local governments. We are particularly interested in studying the proportion of benefits that went to the poor, and how far the distribution of benefits were influenced by political considerations. We carry out our investigation in three stages. First, we examine the proportion of benefits of different categories (such as housing, minikits, drinking water, ration cards and so on) going to the poor and the socially underprivileged classes. Second, we study the effects of different variables (like landholding, education, caste, political participation, etc) on the distribution of benefits within a village. Finally, we look into the determinants of benefits across villages to understand how village characteristics like proportion of landless or backward classes residing in the village or inequality in landholding and education within the village influence the distribution of benefits. The three stages of investigation, taken together, give us a more or less complete picture of distribution of benefits.

Table 8 (p 51) records the percentages of households who reported receiving different benefit programmes (house, water, employment, minikits of agricultural inputs, IRDP, roads, relief

Table 10: Targeting of Benefits within Villages, Based on Household Responses

(OLS regression with village fixed effects)

Number of GP Benefits Received by Household

Education -0.02 (0.04)

SC dummy -0.22 (-0.59)

ST dummy 1.14 (1.09)

Non-agricultural land owned 0.72* (0.39)

Agricultural land owned -0.04 (0.08)

Political meeting attendance dummy 0.95** (0.42)

Political campaign involvement dummy -0.87* (0.48)

Campaign contribution made dummy -0.08 (0.40)

Voted for winning party dummy -0.32 (0.34)

GS attendance rate * education -0.12 (0.13)

GS attendance rate * SC 1.51 (1.08)

GS attendance rate * ST -1.06 (2.98)

GS attendance rate * non-agricultural land -2.05* (1.09)

GS attendance rate * agricultural land 0.14 (0.19)

GS attendance rate * political meeting attendance dummy -1.96* (1.13)

GS attendance rate * political campaign involvement dummy 3.17** (1.25)

GS attendance rate * campaign contribution dummy -0.06 (1.22)

GS attendance rate * voted for winning party dummy 0.28 (0.93)

N, p-value 2001, 0.0000

Std errors are reported in parentheses. ***, **, * denote significant at 1%, 5%, 10%, respectively.

against disasters or old age or widow status, and ration card) over the periods 1978-98 and 1998-2005. We report these periods separately because the reported benefits for the earlier period may be subjected to a greater recall bias. We see that the proportions reporting receiving benefits were substantially higher for

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

the later period. Therefore, we use the figures for the later period would involve distribution of recurring benefits. On the other in our subsequent analysis of benefits. hand, if votes are obtained because of a gratitude factor, both

A number of observations can be made about the figures pro-kinds of benefits would be important. It is clear from Table 9 that vided in Table 8. First, largest benefits were reported for roads the STS received more one-time benefits than recurring ones, (32%) and water (23%) which have non-excludable public goods while for the SCs it was exactly the opposite. We shall see below properties. Within the set of excludable personal benefits, benefi-that the SC/ST cohort comprise a major vote bank of the Left. The ciaries from ration cards (12%) and from relief of various kinds regression results of Table 9 suggest that while ST votes were (12%) topped the list. The proportion of households benefiting based more on the gratitude factor, SC votes are mainly rooted in

from the remaining programmes was a clientelist relationship between the

Table 11: Inter Village Distribution of Benefits (1998-2003)

small. There is yet another list of benefits Number of GP Benefits Per Household party and the electorate.

for which the proportions of beneficiaries Proportion landless -1.076***(0.38) The high proportion of benefits going to

are negligible. Those are not reported Proportion SC -0.22 (-0.59) SC, ST, however, has to be interpreted Proportion ST -0.163 (0.513)

in Table 8. along with the regression results reported

GP Left share 98-03 -10.738*** (3.517)

But whatever the reach of the benefit in Table 10 (p 52) where we examine

GP Left share squared 9.475*** (3.400)

programmes may have been, it is clear d eterminants of the number of benefits

Constant 4.541*** (0.920)

from Table 8 that a reasonably fair propor- (aggregating across different program-

Observations 88

tion of these benefits went to the landless mes) received by a household over the

R-squared 0.18 and to the SC/ST. We may recall from Std errors are reported in parentheses. ***, **, * denote p eriod 1998-2003, controlling for village

significant at 1%, 5%, 10%, respectively.

Table 1 that the landless constituted about fixed effects. The exercise captures the 50% of our sample households while SC and ST taken together determinants of the distribution of benefits within a village. constituted about 37%. If we confine ourselves to the 1998-2005 We find from Table 10 that the number of benefits received by a period, we find that for five out of eight categories of benefits, the household within a village does not significantly depend upon

education, caste, landholding, voting preference or campaign

Table 12: General Characteristics of Voters

contribution. This simply means that if we control for the other

Agricultural Landownership % Enlisted as Voters % Voter Turnout % Reporting Disturbance or Not Responding characteristics of a household, just being a member of the SC/ST

Landless 87.7 89 14.66

community does not significantly affect the number of benefits

0-1.5 acres 98.6 99 11.89

received by the household. Therefore, it must be the case that the

1.5-2.5 acres 100 99 6.1

SC, ST households are getting a sizeable portion of the benefits (as

2.5-5 acres 99.6 99 8.91

we saw in Tables 8 and 9), because many of these households

5-10 acres 100 99 6.75

satisfy some other characteristics with which the number of

10 acres and above 100 100 6.89

b enefits are positively correlated.

All 93.36 93.96 12.36

There are two variables which have significantly positive e ffects proportion going to SC and ST households was more than their on the number of benefits: non-agricultural land owned and the demographic weight and in the remaining three it was less but political meeting attendance dummy. The first is mildly signinot remarkably so. Similarly for the landless, if we exclude mini-ficant (at 10%) and the second is more significant (at 5%). The kits (because the landless have little use for them), in three out of underprivileged like the SC and ST are unlikely to own more nonseven categories the proportion of benefited households exceeded agricultural land than others. But from Table 6 we know that the the demographic weight. In the remaining association between SC and ST and attend-

Table 13: Distribution of Votes across Parties

four categories, proportions of beneficiar-Party % of Voters among % of Voters in Zilla Parishad ance of political meetings was positive and Surveyed Households Election 2003

ies were slightly below the demographic significant. Thus one could infer that a high

CPI(M) 48.51 48.67

share. Finally, if we ignore demographic proportion of benefits have gone to the SC/

CPI 2.93 1.62

weights and just look at the proportion of ST largely because they attended political

FB 5.78 2.56

benefits going to the underprivileged, we meetings more than others. But once we

RSP 1.4 3.13

find that the proportions were high. control for that, being an SC or ST as such

CPM - FB 0.37 The regression results in Table 9 (p 52) sup-CPM - CPI 0.08 did not significantly increase their chance of

plement Table 8. The results demonstrate CPM - RSP 0.04 getting more benefits.
that being a member of either the STs or the Total LF 59.02 56.39 The other curious thing about Table 10 is
SCs increased significantly the chance of AITC 11.27 20.02 that it records a significantly negative rela
getting benefits from the panchayat. How- INC 17.67 17.04 tionship between the political campaign
ever, the results show that the relationship BJP 2.1 3.56 involvement dummy and the number of
between receiving benefits and landhold- AITC - BJP 0.08 benefits received. It is not easy to explain
ing was not significant, though it was negative. To examine the clientelist hypothesis AITC - INC Others 0.04 9.70 why benefits might tend to fall if a household is involved in political campaign on

against the gratitude hypothesis, we have further divided the benefits into two categories: one-time and recurring. Clearly a clientelist relationship between the party and the electorate

Economic & Political Weekly

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

behalf of the party in power. Stories that we gathered from the field suggest a possible explanation. One may think of three possible shades of party l oyalty in decreasing order of intensity: t aking part in political campaigns before elections, attending p olitical meetings and rallies organised by the party, and simply voting for the party without engaging in the other two activities. There is yet a fourth activity, namely, making financial contribution to a political party, about which we shall comment later.

Anecdotes we heard in the course of our survey work suggest two possible reasons why households closest to the party and involved in campaigns may receive fewer benefits from the panchayat. On the one hand, to maintain a cleaner image of the party he is canvassing for, the campaigner cannot visibly receive too many benefits from the panchayat. In fact, he tends to take lower than normal benefits from the panchayat to project an honest i mage of the party and of himself. On the other hand, benefits that can be possibly received from the panchayat may be too small for the services rendered by the campaigner for the party. The campaigner may be compensated in less conspicuous but more rewarding ways.4

For households attending meetings and rallies, however, benefits received through the panchayat seem to be sufficient compensation, because attendance in political meetings entails an intermediate level of commitment to the party. Finally, contrary to popular perception, the voting process in rural Bengal still seems to maintain some confidentiality. As a result, just voting for the party in power, without participating in campaigns or showing up in rallies, cannot send any credible signal of party loyalty and hence does not seem to fetch any additional benefits from the panchayat. We must hasten to add that the above explanation, being based on anecdotes picked up in the field, has all the associated limitations.

The lack of significance of financial contribution to political parties, on the other hand, is not easy to explain. One could argue that since a large number of households are making financial contributions to the political parties, these contributions cannot be used as a screening device for distributing benefits. Perhaps making a contribution has become the norm: the act of not making a contribution is interpreted as a negative signal, i e, is an i ndicator of active opposition to the Left. Since so many contribute, it is not possible for all of them to be given benefits given the resource shortages. Contributions are then a necessary but not a sufficient condition to receive benefits in return.

Another important thing that needs to be noticed in Table 9 is that the interaction terms of GS attendance rate with both meeting attendance and political campaign involvement are significant. Moreover, while the first interaction term is negative, the second is positive. This clearly implies that the biases in benefit targeting caused by meeting attendance and involvement in p olitical campaigns are reduced by higher GS attendance rates in the village. It is easy to understand how higher GS attendance rates, by making the panchayat more transparent would partly eliminate the partisan bias arising out of meeting attendance. But it is not immediately clear why the under-provision of benefits associated with campaign involvement would be partly c orrected due to higher GS attendance rates. Perhaps a more transparent-process-oriented panchayat reduces the apprehension of the campaigner of being falsely charged with misappropriation of panchayat benefits.

Finally, we examine the distribution of benefits across villages. The relevant regression results are reported in Table 11 (p 53). First, we note that the proportion of landless in a village has a negative significant association with per household benefits within the village. This means that villages with a larger proportion of landless received significantly smaller benefits, indicating a perverse pattern of targeting by higher level governments. The result is consistent with the results in Bardhan and Mookherjee (2006) based on an entirely different source and nature of data for the same villages covering the period 1978-98. It may be mentioned in this context that we tried to find out whether any formula or rule was used to allocate funds across GPs from higher level like panchayat samitis or zilla parishads. We discovered that even though a formula for disbursement of funds was laid down in the State F inance Commission Reports, even zilla parishad sabhadhipatis were not aware of it. Therefore, it seems that discretion rather than rule was used to disburse funds across GPs.

Second, the significant negative relationship between Left seat share within a panchayat and per household benefits in the v illage along with a significant positive relationship between Left

Table 14: Logit Cross-Household Regression for Left Vote I

No Village With Village
Fixed Effects Fixed Effects
No of personal benefits (one-time)* Left share 0.066 0.044
(0.087) (0.095)
Number of friends/family benefits received -0.019 -0.038
(one-time)* Left share (0.059) (0.073)
Number of personal benefits received (recurring)* 0.468*** 0.403**
Left share (0.152) (0.165)
Number of friends/family benefits received (recurring)* -0.151 -0.277*
Left share (0.137) (0.160)
Proportion of benefits received in the village* Left share 0.099
GP help with occupation* average Left share 0.132 0.410**
(0.162) (0.186)
GP help during disturbance * average Left share 0.396*** 0.284*
(0.132) (0.159)
Improvement in income over 1978-2004* average Left share 0.014 0.020
(0.012) (0.014)
Improvement in number of rooms in the house over 0.024 0.076
1978-2004 * average Left share (0.076) (0.089)
Improvement in house type over 1978-2004 * 0.136 0.128
average Left share (0.185) (0.202)
Improvement in agriculture over 1978-2004 * 0.053** 0.093***
average Left share (0.023) (0.028)
Agricultural land owned -0.078*** -0.136***
(0.026) (0.031)
Other land owned -0.202** -0.159*
(0.088) (0.091)
Education -0.037** -0.030*
(0.015) (0.017)
ST 0.916*** 0.986**
(0.349) (0.485)
SC 0.376*** 0.397***
(0.123) (0.145)
Agricultural sector occupation 0.255** -0.003
(0.117) (0.135)
Immigrant 0.171 0.172
(0.140) (0.152)
Male -0.036 0.037
(0.183) (0.199)
Observations 1,695 1,637

Std errors are reported in parentheses. ***, **, * denote significant at 1%, 5%, 10%, respectively.

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

share squared and per household benefits indicate a significant U-shaped relation between Left seat share and per household benefits. The U-shaped relationship implies that more resources were allocated to villages where seat allocations were extreme, that is, either the proportion of Left seats was very high or very low. This, in turn, meant that in villages where the ruling party (Left or non-Left) was in big majority, it could successfully bring more resources from higher level governments. In contrast, more evenly contested panchayats could bring fewer benefits per household. The turning point of the U occurred around 57% proportion of GP seats secured by the Left.

5 Determinants of Voting Behaviour

From the discussion in Section 4, it is clear there was some partisan allocation of benefits both within and across villages. Within a village, attendance in political rallies tended to fetch more b enefits than usual. Across villages, panchayats where the Left e njoyed an overwhelming majority were successful on an average in obtaining more resources from higher levels. The natural question is: how far did the allocation of benefits from above help the Left attract votes? To arrive at an answer we have to look into the voting behaviour of the households and identify, in particular, the significant determinants of Left votes. But before going into this we examine some general characteristics of

because those who reported disturbances or declined to answer were not predominantly non-Left voters. In fact, the proportions reporting disturbances were the highest among the landless and the marginal (who tend to vote Left).

We shall see below that there is a significant statistical relationship between voting Left and owning less land or belonging to the SC or ST community. It also appears that voter registration was the lowest among the landless and the marginal; voter turnout was 10% lower among the landless compared with other groups. Moreover, regression results (reported in our companion paper Bardhan et al 2008) suggest a strong negative correlation between having one’s name in the voters list or showing up for casting one’s vote on the one hand and being SC or ST. Finally, the last column of Table 11 suggests that the landless and the marginal faced more difficulties than others while casting their votes. All this taken together would imply that distortions in the voting process, if any, as picked up by lower voter registration, fewer turnouts and disturbances in and around polling booths, went against the Left rather than working in their favour.5

Before looking into the determinant of voting behaviour, we represent the actual profile of voters’ choices. This is given in Table 13 (p 53). Apart from the households which have reported to vote for one single party all along, a small number have reported voting for

different parties in different elections.

Table 15: Voting Patterns and Average Landholding the voters, provided in Table 12 (p 53). Per Household (in acres) They have also found a separate place in

District Left Front Voters INC Voters AITC Voters All Households

On average, voter registration rates Table 12. It is to be noted that the re

24 PGS (N) 0.839 1.16 1.85 1.00

were quite high except among the land- ported vote shares in our survey are not

24 PGS (S) 0.66 1.68 1.57 0.81

less where more than 12% households much different from the actual vote

Bankura 3.09 9.65 3.31 3.95

were not enlisted as voters. Reported shares in the zilla parishad elections of

Birbhum 0.57 6.53 9.01 3.60

voter turnout rates were almost univer- 2003 which are given in column 3. In

Bardhaman 1.39 2.65 3.80 1.84

sal, excepting among the landless. Pro- most cases they are unusually close.

Coochbihar 1.69 3.33 2.33 2.03 bably, lower registration and turnout of Dinajpur 2.62 1.98 2.61 We now investigate the determinants

the landless were caused by their relative Hooghly 0.31 2.17 1.03 1.22 of the likelihood of a given respondent

mobility compared with the landed. Haora 0.25 0.48 0.48 0.36 voting in favour of the Left Front. The

Moreover, there must have been some Jalpaiguri 1.61 3.63 2.51 1.41 relevant regression results are given in Malda 0.54 1.28 0.41 0.73

over-reporting of turnout because the Table 14 (p 54). To settle the question of

Medinipur 1.49 2.61 1.14 1.52

r eported proportions are substantially possible clientelism we make a distinc-

Murshidabad 1.03 1.66 0.24 1.37

above the actual figures. The aggregate tion between two types of personal ben-

Nadia 0.75 1.92 1.82 1.16

reported voter turnout rate was however efits: one-time and recurring. Clien-

Purulia 3.15 2.63 8.33 3.73

similar to that reported (95%) in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan by Krishna (2006).

As for those who reported disturbance during elections or declined to respond to the question, the overall proportion was not very high, but not negligible either. In fact, only four households in the entire sample reported not being able to cast their vote because of fear of disturbances, or because they discovered their vote had already been cast by someone else, or because they had to wait too long at the polling booth. So we describe instead their response to the question whether they faced any difficulties or disturbances when they went to vote (which does not seem to have prevented them from casting their vote). About 5% households reported facing difficulties or disturbances in and around polling booths and nearly 200 households did not respond to the question. Thus there may be some substance in the allegation that elections have not been free and fair in all areas. But it cannot explain the overall outcome of panchayat elections. More so

Economic & Political Weekly

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

telism involves an implicit quid pro quo, an e xchange of recurring favours for recurring political support. The latter category includes IRDP, credit, minikits, employment, the former including the rest. Some programmes are inherently one-time, such as land reform benefits, building of houses, toilets or installation of drinking water taps in the neighbourhood. For these a positive association is more likely to indicate gratitude rather than a continuing reciprocity. Others are ambiguous, such as road programmes. We include roads in one-time category partly because it has a one-time infrastructural, local public good nature. Besides, we ran regressions also including roads in the recurring category and found the results largely unchanged.

The following are the striking features of the regression results recorded in Table 14. First, while one-time benefits received by oneself or by one’s friends or family members had no significant effect on voting Left in a Left-dominated panchayat, recurring benefits received by oneself had a significantly positive effect.

This suggests a clientelist relationship between the party and the voters.6

On the other hand, GP help during different kinds of disturbances and with occupation having the characteristics of onetime benefits are also positively significant. This is consistent with gratitude on the part of the households receiving help. It is harder to rationalise by a clientelism hypothesis, particularly in the case of one-time benefits (given that the votes are being cast after these benefits were received).

Table 16: Logit Cross-Household Regression for Left Vote II

No Village Fixed With Village Fixed
Effects Effects
Personal benefits (one-time) * Left share 0.068 (0.082) 0.070 (0.090)
Acquaintance benefits (one-time)* Left share -0.032 (0.056) -0.077 (0.067)
Personal benefits (recurring) * Left share 0.469*** (0.154) 0.404** (0.167)
Acquaintance benefits (recurring)* Left share -0.069 (0.133) -0.249 (0.155)
Propn of vill benefits* Left share -0.257 (0.272)
GP help with occupation * Left share 0.196 (0.154) 0.434** (0.175)
GP help in disturbances * Left share 0.146 (0.126) 0.059 (0.150)
House type (1=kuccha) 0.402*** (0.111) 0.179 (0.126)
Sufficient food dummy 0.130 (0.187) 0.114 (0.210)
GS speech -0.201 (0.175) -0.190 (0.188)
GS attendance 0.386*** (0.120) 0.438*** (0.131)
TV -0.003 (0.117) 0.083 (0.125)
Radio 0.145 (0.107) 0.162 (0.121)
Agricultural land owned -0.075*** (0.025) -0.122*** (0.030)
Other land owned -0.167* (0.089) -0.165* (0.094)
Education -0.010 (0.015) -0.024 (0.017)
ST 1.146*** (0.319) 1.214*** (0.408)
SC 0.537*** (0.115) 0.524*** (0.135)
Agricultural occupation 0.109 (0.109) -0.045 (0.123)
Immigrant 0.222* (0.122) 0.285** (0.132)
Male -0.261 (0.172) -0.188 (0.185)
Constant 0.584 (0.614)
Observations 2002 1944

Std errors are reported in parentheses. ***, **, * denote significant at 1%, 5%, 10% , respectively.

Third, improvement in agricultural incomes over the period 1978-2004, which was presumably credited to Left Front rule, had a positively significant effect on Left votes. In our study, improvement in agricultural income basically meant improvement in irrigation facilities, which came mostly in the form of shallow and deep tube wells. These irrigation facilities were built with private initiative. But the distribution of water during peak agricultural months needed panchayat help, especially with respect to management and resolution of conflicts. Moreover, anecdotes suggest that in many instances private providers of water i nstalled deep tube wells when they had permission to install only a shallow well and the panchayat looked the other way. In short, irrigation facilities, though installed under private initiative, were often treated like recurring panchayat benefits. The same would be true with respect to distribution of agricultural minikits or disbursement of cheap credit under the IRDP p rogramme under the recommendation of GP officials.

Finally, the regression results indicate that if we control for benefits (either recurring or one-time) being land poor, uneducated, or a member of the backward castes or tribes each separately increases the probability of voting Left. In other words, the poor, the socially backward and the uneducated, irrespective of whether they received GP benefits or not, have a clear inclination to vote Left. The negative connection between landholding and voting Left is further demonstrated in Table 15 (p 55) where we find that in almost all the districts average landholding of Left Front voters is lower than that of the INC and AITC and that of the all district average.

The question is: why would the poor, the uneducated and the socially backward vote for the Left irrespective of whether or not they received GP benefits? The question seems puzzling if we consider the fact that in our survey approximately 11% of the sample households reported that they do not get adequate food. It may be mentioned that a similar figure of food inadequacy among r ural households in West Bengal has been quoted in a recent NSS report (2007).7 In the NSS document 10.6% of the rural households in West Bengal have been reported to have inadequate food for some months of the year. The starvation figure is not only the highest among all major Indian states, it is significantly above that of Orissa (4.8%) which occupies the second highest place.

Table 16 reports some additional regression results concerning association of Left support with indicators of household wellbeing such as whether it lived in a non-permanent (kuchha) house, and whether it reported that its food intake was insufficient for its needs. While the sufficient food dummy did not have any significant association with Left votes, the non-permanent home dummy showed a significant positive correlation only in the regression without village fixed effects. This indicates that there is greater support for the Left in poorer villages, though not within a village across types of households. In other words, the regression results confirm that the poor constitute an important vote base for the Left, and even starvation does not reverse this loyalty. Finally, immigrants had a higher probability of voting Left, which could owe to the help of Left-dominated local governments in settling into their new habitat.

It thus seems that the loyalty of the poor and the underprivileged towards the Left has to be explained by factors which go beyond standard economic explanations. It is sometimes claimed that during the Left rule the poor in the villages of West Bengal came to enjoy a kind of dignity which was unknown to them before. Perhaps this social upgrading created another kind of gratitude8 which survived all economic hardships for 30 years. We do not have firm evidence on this, but it seems quite plausible.

A deeper understanding of voting behaviour, especially that leading to a lack of political change, requires an examination of the characteristics of voters who were consistently faithful to e ither the Left or to their political opponents over the past quarter century. We refer to them as secure voters. Part of the continued domination of the Left Front has been associated with a large s ecure base of voters. Forty-five per cent of respondents reported that they vote the same way as their fathers, while an even higher proportion (67%) reported voting for the same party in the last 25 years. The proportion that voted for Left Front parties in our b allot was 65%. Among those voting Left, the proportions of loyal voters were slightly higher than in the entire population: 48% reported voting like their father, and 76% reported having voted consistently for the same party in the last 25 years. This implies

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

approximately half of all voters have been loyal to the Left throughout the past quarter century.

Table 17 presents logit regressions predicting the likelihood that voters were secure for either the Left or non-Left parties, on the basis of household characteristics. It shows that households belonging to the SCs or STs, those with little or no land and those with low levels of education had a significantly higher chance of being a secure Left voter. Among these categories, members of SC or ST had a significantly lower probability of becoming secure voters for the non-Left parties as well. Finally, gratitude arising out of GP help in dispute resolution or financial emergencies has also played a statistically significant role in enlarging the cohort of secured voters for the Left. These results reinforce the findings of Tables 16 and 14.

6 Summary and Conclusions

In this paper, we examined the working of grass roots democracy in rural West Bengal in order to understand factors underlying the unusual political stability in the state. The exercise involved a

Table 17: Logit Regressions for Secure, Left-Secure and Non-Left-Secure Voter Dummies on Household and Village Characteristics

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Secure Secure Left Left Non-Left Non-Left
Voter Voter Secure Secure Secure Secure
(VFE) Voter Voter (VFE) Voter Voter (VFE)
Age -0.01 -0.02 -0.02 -0.01 0.01 -0.01
(0.02) (0.02) (0.02) (0.02) (0.03) (0.03)
Age squared 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 -0.00 0.00
(0.00) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00)
Male -0.31* -0.28 -0.16 -0.10 -0.15 -0.14
(0.17) (0.17) (0.15) (0.16) (0.18) (0.19)
Edu max -0.02* -0.02* -0.03** -0.03** 0.01 0.02
(0.01) (0.01) (0.01) (0.01) (0.02) (0.02)
ST 0.25 0.28 0.80*** 0.94*** -1.15** -1.30***
(0.32) (0.32) (0.29) (0.31) (0.45) (0.47)
SC 0.25** 0.26** 0.44*** 0.47*** -0.38** -0.39***
(0.12) (0.12) (0.11) (0.11) (0.15) (0.15)
Occupation agri -0.08 -0.07 0.11 0.07 -0.23* -0.16
(0.11) (0.11) (0.10) (0.11) (0.12) (0.13)
Immigrant -0.26** -0.28** 0.04 0.08 -0.48*** -0.56***
(0.11) (0.12) (0.11) (0.11) (0.15) (0.16)
GP help in dispute 0.17* 0.25** 0.24** 0.31*** -0.12 -0.11
resolution (0.10) (0.11) (0.09) (0.11) (0.12) (0.13)
GP help in financial 0.01 0.07 0.07 0.27** -0.11 -0.32**
emergency (0.12) (0.13) (0.11) (0.13) (0.14) (0.16)
Other land owned -0.14* -0.17** -0.06 -0.07 -0.13 -0.16
(0.08) (0.08) (0.08) (0.09) (0.11) (0.11)
Agricultural -0.07*** -0.07*** -0.15*** -0.15*** 0.08*** 0.08***
land owned (0.02) (0.03) (0.03) (0.03) (0.03) (0.03)
Vill land gini -2.14*** -1.73*** -0.28
(0.49) (0.45) (0.55)
Vill education gini -0.96 -1.24 0.52
(0.96) (0.88) (1.10)
Propn village -0.16*** -0.12** -0.05
educated (0.06) (0.05) (0.07)
Vill propn SC 0.10 0.16 -0.10
(0.25) (0.23) (0.29)
Vill propn ST 1.25* 0.41 0.82
(0.70) (0.57) (0.66)
Constant 4.53*** 2.99*** -1.04
(1.10) (1.01) (1.25)
Observations 2,215 2,189 2,215 2,208 2,215 2,110

Std errors are reported in parentheses. ***, **, * denote significant at 1%, 5%, 10%, respectively. VFE denotes inclusion of village fixed effects.

Economic & Political Weekly

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

survey of 2,400 households spread over 88 villages in all the d istricts of West Bengal except Darjeeling.

A well-functioning local democracy involves on the one hand high political awareness and participation of the citizens. And on the other, it requires proper targeting of benefits distributed through the panchayats towards the poor and the socially underprivileged. In particular, it should preclude blatantly partisan distribution of government benefits.

Our survey results indicate that political awareness and p articipation have been reasonably high on average. As might be e xpected, these were somewhat higher among the educated and the relatively affluent, but poor and SC/ST households did not lag far behind. As for distribution of GP benefits within a village, they favoured the poor and SC/ST groups. There was no indication of partisanship in benefit distribution, after controlling for household socio-economic characteristics. Surprisingly, involvement in political campaigns, a more active form of political participation than attending meetings, were negatively correlated with the number of benefits received by the household. And comparing across villages, panchayats with more landless households tended to receive fewer benefits per household, and villages where the ruling party had an overwhelming majority tended to get more. All this, taken together, suggests some distortion in the distribution of benefits at the inter-village and inter-GP level by higher levels of government, but not within villages. To the extent that information about relative entitlements and distributions exists at the intra-village rather than inter-village level, this is likely to have contributed to the view that the panchayat system has worked fairly well to uphold the interests of vulnerable sections of the population.

Looking further into the determinants of political loyalties of voters, we found that Left votes were associated positively and significantly with receipt of recurring GP benefits, though not with one-time benefits. This suggests a clientelist relationship b etween the party and the electorate. On the other hand, gratitude also had a role to play in securing votes for the Left because GP help during emergencies or with occupation increased the probability of voting Left in Left-dominated panchayats. More importantly, controlling for the effects of benefit distribution, we found that being land-poor, socially backward or uneducated significantly increased the chance of voting for the Left. This might r eflect a different kind of gratitude arising out of a social betterment of the disadvantaged during Left Front rule. Thus the u nusual political stability witnessed in rural West Bengal seems partly due to a clientelist relationship between the Left and the electorate, and partly to a gratitude factor arising out of good governance in a general sense of the term.

On the basis of our 2003-05 survey do we have any indicators for post-2005 voting patterns? In general we can say that with improving education, increasing mobility, declining agriculture and eroding effects of past land reforms, our results would lead us to predict a trend decline in vote share of the Left parties in panchayat elections in the years ahead. But the actual election results depend on many contingent factors, including the nature of explicit or tacit alliance of the opposition parties. The opposition was quite divided in the 2003 panchayat elections and the 2006 assembly elections, which may have neutralised and over-i mplementing these programmes, and especially the high-handed come such a declining trend for Left share (particularly in seats). and violent ways of meeting any resistance on the ground, have The recent 2008 panchayat elections show a sharp fall in Left galvanised the opposition in the whole state, apart from causing seat share, which certainly have been partly associated with the disunity within the Left coalition and eroding its general credirecent events associated with the land acquisition process for bility as a defender of the interests of vulnerable sections of the

new industries. The unplanned and uncoordinated ways of rural population.


1 According to the National Human Development Report (2001) of the Government of India, West Bengal was below the all India average with respect to rural per capita consumption, growth rate of rural employment, rate of rural unemployment, rural households having pucca houses, electricity connections, access to safe drinking water or private toilet facility. On the other hand, the average West Bengal village was ahead of the average Indian village in terms of literacy and life expectancy.

2 Some studies like Suri (2004, 2006) and Yadav (2004) have attempted to relate voting behaviour in national elections with socio-economic characteristics of the voters.

3 The respondents were asked six questions to test their political awareness: they were asked to

(a) name three political parties with their symbols; (b) name the party currently in power in the state; (c) mention the number of years the currently ruling party is in power; (d) name the present chief minister; (e) name the previous chief minister; and (f) name the party in power at the centre. For each correct answer a respondent got one point and the maximum point he/she could score was six.

4 Some examples of larger benefits a close party associate like a campaigner could get are: securing the order to build roads or to supply building m aterials for public constructions, getting jobs in government run schools or health centres, or simply an encouragement from the higher authorities to pursue a political career which involves getting a bunch of facilities including free transport.

5 Two particularly common methods of rigging elections are false voting and tampering with the voters’ list. These would be captured in our data insofar as voters reporting not being able to vote because they are not registered, or if someone else has voted on their behalf by the time they a rrived in the voting area.

6 However, recurring benefits received by peer groups (within a village) probably gave rise to some envy producing a mildly significant negative effect on voting Left in Left-dominated panchayats.

7 National Sample Survey 61st Round: Perceived Adequacy of Food Consumption in Indian Households, 2004-05.

8 Since the respondents in our survey were household heads, there was an age bias. This age bias, in turn, probably led to a gratitude bias, which would have been reduced if we could incorporate the responses of the younger members of the household as well.


Baiochhi, Gianpaolo, Patrick Heller, Shubham Chaudhuri and Marcelo Silva (2006): “Evaluating Empowerment: Participatory Budgeting in Brazilian Muncipalities”, mimeo, Department of Politics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Bardhan, Pranab, Sandip Mitra, Dilip Mookherjee and Abhrup Sarkar (2008): “Political Participation, Clientelism and Targeting of Public Services by Local Governments: Analysis of Survey Results from Rural West Bengal, India”, unpublished.

Bardhan, Pranab and Dilip Mookherjee (2004): “Poverty Alleviation Efforts of West Bengal Panchayats”, Economic & Political Weekly, 28 February, 965-74.

– (2006): “Pro-Poor Targeting and Accountability of Local Governments in West Bengal”, Journal of Development Economics.

Chatterjee, Partha (2004): Politics of the Governed (Permanent Black).

Crook, Richard and James Manor (1998): Democracy and Decentralisation in South Asia and West Africa (Cambridge University Press).

Gaviria, Alejandro, Ugo Panizzia and Jessica Seddon (2002): “Economic, Social and Demographic D eterminants of Political Participation in Latin America: Evidence from the 1990s”, Working P aper #472, Research Department, InterAmerican Development Bank, Washington DC.

Ghatak, M and M Ghatak (2002): “Recent Reforms in the Panchayat System in West Bengal: Towards Greater Participatory Governance”, Economic & Political Weekly, 5 January, 45-58.

Krishna, Anirudh (2006): “Poverty and Democratic Participation Reconsidered: Evidence from the Local Level in India”, mimeo, Duke University, forthcoming, Comparative Politics.

Ruud, Arild (1999): “From Untouchable to Communist: Wealth, Power and Status among Supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Rural West Bengal (1977-90)” in B Rogaly, B Harriss-White and S Bose (ed.), Sonar Bangla? Agricultural Growth and Agrarian Change in West Bengal and Bangladesh (New Delhi and Thousand Oaks, London: Sage Publications).

– (2003): Poetics of Village Politics (Oxford University Press).

Sarkar, Abhirup (2006): “Political Economy of West Bengal: A Puzzle and a Hypothesis”, Economic & Political Weekly, Volume XLI, No 4, 28 January.

Suri, K C (2004): “Democracy, Economic Reforms and Election Results in India”, Economic & Political Weekly, 18 December.

– (2006): “Patterns of Electoral Support and Party Leadership in India: Some Observations Based on Empirical Research”, mimeo, Nagarjuna University.

Yadav, Yogendra (2004): “The Elusive Mandate of 2004”, Economic & Political Weekly, 18 December.

State Elections 2007-08
February 7, 2009
Rajasthan: Dissatisfaction and a Poor Campaign Defeat BJP – Sanjay Lodha
Delhi Assembly Elections: 2008 – Sanjay Kumar
understanding the Paradoxical Outcome in Jammu and Kashmir – Ellora Puri
Madhya Pradesh: Overriding the Contours of Anti-Incumbency – Ram Shankar, Yatindra Singh Sisodia
Chhattisgarh 2008: Defeating Anti-Incumbency – Dhananjai Joshi, Praveen Rai
Karnataka: The Lotus Blooms....Nearly – Sandeep Shastri, B S Padmavathi
Himachal Pradesh Elections 2007: A Post-Poll Analysis – Ramesh K Chauhan, S N Ghosh

For copies write to: Circulation Manager Economic and Political Weekly 320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013 email:

february 28, 2009 vol xliv no 9

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top