IPW 2022

The Second Annual Indian Politics Workshop of the Center on Contemporary India (CCI)
May 9 - 11, 2022
University of California, Berkeley (Via Zoom) 

Mon, May 9 9-9:10 am Introduction
9:10-10:30 am

Panel Chair:

Jennifer Bussell, UC Berkeley 

A strange convergence: India and China under Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping

Abstract: Since the mid-twentieth century, Asia’s two giants have represented alternative models of political modernity. But the dramatic political rise of Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping since 2012, two self-avowed strongmen, has witnessed a striking convergence in the aims, structure and exercise of power in both countries. What are the causes and ramifications of this development? The first part of the paper examines the remarkably similar circumstances marked the rise of Modi and Xi. Decades of rapid economic growth had increased national prosperity. But growing social inequalities spurred the development of new welfare regimes. And systemic challenges—growing political corruption, environmental degradation, economic slowdown—intensified in the years immediately preceding the ascent of these two new leaders. Part two of the paper analyzes how, despite their divergent political biographies, Modi and Xi have restructured and exercised power in convergent ways and for similar ends. Both leaders have embraced high-modernist projects, concentrated political authority in their persons, expanded state power to curb political opposition, independent institutions and social dissent, and justified their actions in singular nationalist tropes to avenge perceived historic injustices. Part three of the paper examines how and why Modi and Xi have been able to achieve their aims, highlighting the constraints their respective political regimes continue to impose.

The Nation, its own and others: Nationalism and social enforcement of public health norms during the COVID-19 pandemic in India

Abstract: Across the world, nationalist discourse is often prominent during crises, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. How does exposure to different forms of nationalism affect public behavior in high-stakes policy contexts requiring collective action and large-scale behavior change? In established nation-states, a key dimension of nationalism is its ethnic inclusiveness: the extent to which members of all ethnic groups residing in a state are considered to belong within the boundaries of the national community. In this paper, we combine a 4,099-person phone-based survey experiment implemented in two Indian states during the COVID-19 pandemic with in-depth qualitative interviews to study how exposure to an ethnically inclusive (secular) vs. exclusive (Hindutva) nationalism shapes how members of an ethnic majority-group (Hindus in India) enforce compliance with public health norms among in-group members and members of a minority out-group (Muslims in India). We find robust experimental evidence that exposure to inclusive nationalism drives in-group punishment of fellow majority-group members who violate public health protocols, and we do not find any effect of exposure to exclusive nationalism on either punishment or leniency towards norm violations committed by members of any group. These findings are consistent with an established literature in social psychology that ties the salience of intergroup context and threat perception to in-group punishment of norm violations. Drawing on qualitative interviews and analysis of survey data, we argue that the prevailing environment of religious politics in North India leads perceptions of minority threat to dominate the potential solidaristic effects of exposure to inclusive nationalism.

India’s Democratic Ceiling: Intra-party Splits and Backsliding in 1975 and 2014

Abstract: What causes democratic backsliding in well-institutionalized democracies?  Through a comparative historical analysis of India’s periods of democratic backsliding, we argue that the creation of Indian democracy, its longstanding low level of democratic quality, and its two periods of democratic backsliding can all be critically explained by the political elite’s unity over their monopolization of social and economic power.  The findings offer support and modifications to the dominant and western-centric literature on democratic backsliding. First, we argue that a key condition for democratic backsliding is intra-party elite splits along major tactical and ideological cleavages which enable a populist politician to rise within the party.   Second, we suggest that an emphasis on strictly economic explanations of democratic stability (and conversely backsliding) need to be complemented with an emphasis on relative status concerns that critically explain India’s contemporary period of democratic backsliding

  • Aseema Sinha, Claremont McKenna College
  • Manisha PriyamNational University for Educational Planning and Administration​, India​

Willing’ ethnic-nationalists, diffusion, and resentment in India: a micro-foundational account

Abstract: Using evidence regarding the consolidation of Hindu nationalism in India we put forward new ethnographic data about the variety of popular support for a Hindutva project and a new framework that proposes an interactive theory of social identity. This framework helps us understand how Hindu nationalism becomes embedded in society. We assert that Hindu nationalism in India could be fruitfully analyzed by focusing on the processes through which ideas of exclusive nationalism spread among common middle classes and are expressed in micro-level psychological changes at the individual level.  The consolidation of Hindu nationalism in India is being authored not only by parties or the state, but also by societal actors, specifically, ordinary middle-class Indians. Hindu nationalism has been spreading in micro-public spheres in times of apparent peace and between elections and with the participation of willing supporters. Our conversations and fieldwork have also helped us identify profiles of different types of Hindu nationalists, which we categorize as willing ethnic nationalists, hardliners, bystanders and moderates building on our fieldwork and research in psychology, and history. Further, we suggest the need to focus on inter-linked micro-level mechanisms such as diffusion and emulation of Hindu-centric beliefs and ideas, mobilization by hardliners and organizations, and impunity protected by state agencies, which helps create willing ethnic nationalists and sustains Hindu nationalism. Survey evidence regarding social interactions from a variety of survey organizations concurs with our findings and our ethnographic material allows us to go deeper into varieties of Hindu nationalist support across diverse ordinary people

10:45-12:15 pm

Panel Chair:

Syeda ShahBano Ijaz​, UC San Diego​

Minority Enterprise and Majority Rule: Optimal Bias in Business Financing under BJP Government

AbstractDoes the rise of majoritarian ethno-religious parties presage the economic marginalization of minorities? Scholarship from around the world finds that ethnic parties privilege their own. But we argue that this tendency can be reversed when ethnic majority groups are divided by geographic and sectoral cleavages. We test these contending theoretical expectations by studying the fortunes of Muslim entrepreneurs under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India using a unique census encompassing millions of firms. In the context of a close-election regression discontinuity design, we find that Muslim firms' reliance on government financing is lower in regions that narrowly elect a BJP state legislator. However, in aggregate, and in contrast to the conventional wisdom, we show that Muslim enterprises are substantially more likely to secure state financing, particularly in constituencies the party narrowly lost but might win in subsequent elections. We call this strategy of courting minority businesspeople ``optimal bias" and theorize that it is a response to disaffection among rural Hindus. Competitive democracy fosters improbable multi-ethnic alliances.

The Electoral Consequences of Mass Religious Events

AbstractMass ritualized gatherings like pilgrimages are central to religious practice globally. Do they generate votes for religious parties? Theoretically, the events may heighten religiosity, enlarging support for parties seen as “owning” religious policy issues. Such parties might also engage in platform co-optation, piggybacking on the events to organize and campaign. We evaluate the electoral impact of India’s Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival considered the world’s largest human assembly, leveraging its astrologically determined timing combined with districts’ proximity by rail to the festival sites. The Kumbh Mela boosts Hindu nationalists’ vote share. Mechanism tests suggest it does so by fomenting identity change—evidenced by increases in communal violence and the adoption of orthodox dietary practices—and by bolstering party infrastructure. India’s main secular-leaning party loses support, but not in regions with denser concentrations of religious minorities. Our study offers a new account of how confessional parties make inroads in multiethnic democracies.

Hindu Nationalism and vigilante violence against Ethnic Minorities in India

Abstract: The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the charismatic and populist leader Narendra Modi won national level elections and formed the central government in 2014, and won a second national election in 2019. What is the effect of the BJP forming government on ethnic violence between Hindus and Muslims in India? Has the pattern of anti-minority Hindutva violence in the world’s largest democracy, India, changed since the BJP has formed the national government in 2014?

India had a long history of inter-ethnic tensions and riots between Hindus and Muslims since India’s independence and even earlier in the colonial period. A well-known literature has debated whether it is inter-ethnic civic ties (Varshney 2003), electoral competition (Wilkinson 2004), or an institutionalized riot system (Brass 1997)) that explains patterns of Hindu Muslim riots in India. However, since the early 2000s, the number of Hindu Muslim riots seem to have reduced in intensity and frequency as compared to the 1950-1990s, with the last major riot happening in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 just before the 2014 elections.1 Instead, the number of lynchings and physical harassment and intimidation of ethnic minorities like Muslims, Dalits and Christians by vigilante groups and mobs inspired by Hindutva nationalism has been on the rise (Basu 2021, Jaffrey 2022, Jaffrelot 2021).

This empirical puzzle raises several broader questions for the literature on ethnic violence. Why do some forms of ethnic violence decline, yet other forms of ethnic violence escalate, in multi-ethnic democracies over time? Another broad empirical question: do populist right wing parties in democracies prefer to use low scale violence like lynchings and vigilantism to higher scale violence like riots and pogroms? What role does vigilantism play in relation to different forms of political violence like riots, genocide, and insurgency? Are there different forms of vigilantism related to these broader forms of political violence?

Focusing on the case of India, my project raises several important research questions that would be fruitful to analyze the different forms of Hindutva based vigilantism and anti-minority violence in India, and would be useful to develop theoretical insights for the broader literature on ethnic violence and vigilantism.

Tue, May 10 9-10:30 am

Panel Chair:

Simon Chauchard, Leiden University

The Representation Trap: Why Muslims Struggle to Maintain Political Power in India

Abstract: Multi-ethnic democracies across the world regularly witness marginalized groups pushing for greater inclusion and political power. Existing research highlights how gaining political office can catalyze greater political equality for marginalized groups. This paper challenges this conventional wisdom by positing the existence of a “representation trap.” When marginalized groups gain political power, some parties can be incentivized to mobilize majority group identity while other parties may mobilize sub-identities within the marginalized group. This process plays out among both elites and voters resulting in a loss of power for the now divided marginalized group and gains for the unified dominant group. I test this theory in the context of one of the largest minority groups in the world's largest democracy, Indian Muslims. I provide evidence of the representation trap by leveraging a regression discontinuity design for state assembly elections across 14 states in India from 1977-2007. I trace the causal logic of the argument through in-depth case studies drawing on nearly 70 interviews with political elites and ethnographic fieldwork across constituencies in India's largest state of Uttar Pradesh. The findings suggest a new explanation for the sustained exclusion of marginalized groups in multi-ethnic democracies: their gains in power can shift majority and minority group identities in such a way that ultimately disadvantages them

When Religiously Conservative Parties Mobilize Women: Norms and Party Activism in India

AbstractPolitical participation is of fundamental importance in democratic settings, but most democracies suffer from low rates of women's participation. I argue that women's political involvement is a function of how political parties navigate gender norms in society and within the household. Using the case of India, which witnessed a large increase in the rate of women entering public spaces in the support of a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, I argue that religiously conservative parties in traditional societies can reduce women's private costs of entering public spaces. In doing so, I highlight the role of seva, a norm of service, that publicly reinforces women's private care-giving roles. Framing politics in terms of selfless community service de-emphasizes the potentially transgressive nature of women's political engagement. This circumvents a perceived challenge to patriarchal notions of acceptable women's behavior making it easier for women to enter political spaces when it is in support of a religiously conservative party.

Religious Identity Choice: Evidence for Indian Names

Abstract: Culture -- informal rules or beliefs about appropriate or acceptable behavior -- is a key determinant of economic and social behavior. A key question in the study of cultural change is whether these rules and beliefs are persistent, or if they evolve quickly in response to the economic and institutional environment? We study this question in the context of religious naming patterns in India, the world’s largest democracy. Because names signal religious identity and can determine how individuals are treated, we use a character-based naming algorithm to code the names of nearly all registered voters and their parents across 24 states and union territories based on how indicative they are of the religious group. Using this measure, we descriptively examine generational and overtime shifts in how much names signal religious identity. We also find a trend toward more distinctive names that is slowed down by a set of politically salient events in 1992. Our findings speak to growing research on the determinants of group identity.

10:45-12:15 pm

Panel Chair:

Poulomi Chakrabarti, Queen's University

Bureaucratic Hurdles, Political Resistance, and Public Service Access: Evidence from a Field Experiment in India

AbstractCitizens in fast-urbanizing countries frequently struggle to access state services, relying instead on amenities provided informally or illegally. We theorize two constraints to formalization in these contexts: bureaucratic roadblocks caused by complex application procedures, and electoral non-accountability. Using a large, cluster-randomized field experiment among informal settlement dwellers in Mumbai, we assess how two interventions—a bureaucratic facilitation drive and a political coordination campaign—impacted communities’ likelihood of securing municipal water connections. Bureaucratic assistance increased the submission of applications and invited an initial response from officials. However, neither intervention resulted in final-stage formalization across the board, either separately or in combination. The political pressure intervention did, however, induce formalization for settlement residents who were not aligned with the city’s dominant ethnic group, while it was significantly less effective when either settlement residents or their city councilors belonged to the dominant ethnic group. This is suggestive of a novel explanation for why political pressure interventions fall flat in polities riven by identity-based politics: dominant group elites lean on exclusionary identity appeals to mobilize core supporters, while bottom-up mobilization for service delivery is a “weapon of the weak” deployed as an electoral strategy by the marginalized.

Accessing the Last-Mile: Evidence on Aid and Accountability from Pakistan

AbstractForeign aid is a significant international fiscal flow, often intended to support development objectives in the global south. Yet, existing studies show that foreign aid might undermine fledgling democracies: it allows politicians to claim undue credit for public programs (Cruz & Schneider 2018), has perverse consequences for development by incentivizing politicians to prioritize electoral outcomes over meeting their constituents’ needs (Briggs 2012; Jablonski 2014), and, much worse, empowers dictators to suppress or buy out political dissent (Bueno de Mesquita & Smith 2007; Morrison 2009). These results are undergirded by a set of assumptions: electorally beneficial allocations and corruption by dictators require that aid be manipulable by political leaders. Similarly, successful credit claiming assumes that developing country voters are unable to discriminate between politician effort and mere credit claiming - in other words, it is easy to trick develop country voters into giving votes where they are not due. However, voters in developing countries are actually quite `savvy' (Khan-Mohmand 2019): a host of work on voters in the global south shows that long-term clientelistic ties persist at the demand of voters who require these services against the backdrop of an unresponsive state (Nichter 2018), that wellnetworked voters actively make claims on the state (Kruks-Wisner 2018) and that voters can often rile up local level political competition by demanding services from brokers (Auerbach 2019) or from local politicians (Khan-Mohmand 2019). Where substitutive social services are absent, poor voters also organize for `forbearance - the intentional and revocable government leniency towards violations of the law' (Holland 2017). Aid has also become increasingly less discretionary; a defining characteristic of foreign aid involvement in public programs is to reduce personal and political discretion in the allocation of aid funds. When politicians cannot exercise discretion over foreign aid funds and voters are smart enough to not reward credit claiming, can aid still harm democracy? In this paper, I show that foreign aid funded programs might improve political outcomes by drawing focus to an understudied political phenomenon: that of last-mile access. While politicians may not be able to exercise discretion over foreign aid itself, they still retain discretion over which voters can access these benefits easily. At the same time, eligibility for public programs increases the stakes for voters to demand access from local politicians and to hold them accountable for access provision at the ballot.

Technocratic Social Welfare Expansion from Above: The Political Origins of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP)

Abstract: Why do elected governments in weakly institutionalized democracies adopt redistributive social policies that reduce political discretion and extend social benefits to marginalized citizens? Under what political conditions do these programs become insulated within administrative bureaucracies and become pockets of good governance within entrenched patronage governance systems. Over the last two decades Pakistan has experienced a significant reduction in national poverty levels, which in part has been driven by state investments in building a national anti-poverty program, providing monthly cash transfers exclusively to low-income women and their families. The rapid expansion of cash transfers to previously excluded citizens, between 2008-18, is particularly striking given low developmental priorities of the Pakistani state. Pakistan’s hybrid security driven state has historically lacked many of the institutional features associated with developmental states that have made large investments in poverty alleviation and citizen welfare, such as strong democratic institutions, an insulated bureaucracy and an active civil society. This chapter argues that BISP’s expansion of welfare provision and embedding within the Pakistani administrative bureaucray are rooted in key changes in Pakistan’s domestic politics. The process tracing highlights three key institutional changes within Pakistan’s hybrid political system after the transition to democracy in 2008, which created favorable conditions for elected governments to institutionalize programmatic social welfare policies. These institutional changes include: 1. inter-party cooperation over policy adoption 2. bureaucratic insulation and control over program implementation and 3. technocratic inputs from local experts and donor organizations. I argue that this troika of cooperation between elected governments, the bureaucracy and local and international technocratic experts enabled the building of a highly centralized technocratic welfare program that become embedded as the main developmental arm of the Pakistani bureaucratic state

Wed, May 11     9-10:45 am

Panel Chair:

Sanjay Ruparelia, Ryerson University

Identity and Red Tape: The Political Economy of Politician-Bureaucrat Cooperation in India

AbstractBureaucrats often have incentives to shirk or subvert politicians' goals. We show that identity plays a role in explaining politician-bureaucrat cooperation, but that shared identity can produce either cooperation or rivalry. We test this claim by examining the role of caste in shaping the approval times of pork-barrel projects in India. All MPs see projects approved more quickly when they are submitted to bureaucrats of the same caste (jati ). However, when the MP and bureaucrat are of the same superordinate ethnic group (from the same caste category), approval times are slower in Northern India, where intra-category rivalry over the benefits of affirmative action is marked, but faster in Southern India, where there have been successful attempts at horizontal social mobilization along caste category lines. These results suggest that shared identity can supplement formal institutional controls in bureaucracies, and that which identities become relevant is a product of contingent historical factors.

Gendered Representation in the Indian Administrative Service

AbstractWe document trends in the representation of women in the Indian Administrative Service over the last half-century. Our analysis reveals four key insights concerning gendered representation over the life cycle of IAS officers. Overall, first, the representation of women in the IAS is steadily improving, although today only one in five bureaucrats are women. Second, women are more likely to join the IAS through direct recruitment via examinations, as compared to joining through the discretionary promotion from the state civil services. Third, conditional on years of service in the IAS, women experience similar probabilities of promotion and transfer as their peers who are men. But fourth, compared to men, women are significantly more likely to be transferred and promoted into stereotypically “feminine” departments, such as those concerning child development, family welfare, and human resources.

Engendering Policing: Activating State Capacity for Women's Empowerment

AbstractWhen and how do states work effectively on behalf of marginalized social groups? Theories of representative bureaucracy maintain that public officials are more likely to address the needs of citizens with whom they share features of their identity. However, the empirical record on efforts to diversify bureaucracies remains mixed, raising the questions: when and why does descriptive representation improve the responsiveness of public agencies to marginalized citizens? This paper takes up these questions in the critical domain of gender and policing. We turn to India, a country marked by constrained state capacity and entrenched patriarchal norms, to explore police agency responses to gender-based violence. We build from a large-scale experiment studying the placement of women’s help desks (specialized services for women) in local police stations, which found that the registration of women’s cases increased—particularly when the desks were run by newly allocated female officers. What drives these gender-differentiated effects, in particular in settings where female officers are a small minority of the police force and typically disempowered? Drawing on a multi-level comparative design and intensive qualitative field research, we trace how the implementation of a bundle of reforms—combining training and high-level monitoring of the help desks with investments in local station capacity and the allocation of new female personnel—increased both the costs of inaction and the spaces for action, thereby building the visibility and value ascribed to women’s cases. These factors, we argue, enhanced the agency of female officers, enabling them to work both as women and for women. Our study suggests that in order for descriptive representation to have substantive effects, the agency of frontline personnel must be activated and institutionally supported. Such efforts, in turn, are critical in activating state capacity in service of marginalized groups.

Roads of Resistance: Theory and Evidence on Eminent Domain Conflict from India

AbstractUrbanization and economic growth require states to expropriate land for highways, industries, and mines. Can the state get landowners to give up land? Using information on over 20,000 infrastructure projects requiring land appropriation, I demonstrate that projects heighten the risk of protests and litigation against the state by 10 percent. Prior works suggest that bureaucrats' local ties matter for state capacity at the local level but differ on whether bureaucrats' ties boost or depress state capacity. While I theorize that bureaucrats’ local ties matter, I argue this is because bureaucrats with close ties are more able to coordinate coercion against landowners. I find bureaucrats with local ties erase the risk of resistance against land acquisition. Landowners connected to these bureaucrats report less confidence in the police and more experience with threats and attacks. I offer suggestive evidence for bureaucrat's rent-seeking motivation and eliminate alternative explanations: manipulation of project location or increased compensation under embedded bureaucrats. The findings have implications for how bureaucrats' informal ties may empower the state, but suppress citizens' voice, a key component of substantive democracy and guardianship of natural resources.

Making Police Officers Responsive to Women in Gender Segregated Societies: Experimental Evidence from Pakistan

Abstract: How can we make bureaucracies more responsive to women in gender-segregated societies? We study this question through a field experiment evaluating a community policing intervention in Pakistan. 150 police beats were randomly assigned to execute two different community policing models. Both models included community forums and follow-up planning, but a gender-responsive version also included women-only forums, and integrated women police officers into planning. Drawing on descriptive evidence, we demonstrate how two relevant forms of segregation: physical gender-based segregation in public spaces, and gender-based occupational segregation within the police force, exclude women from the gains of the ostensibly “gender-neutral” model, and shape the design choices for a “gender responsive” version. In keeping with these norms of segregation, the gender responsive model combines a “separate spaces” or “enclaves” approach at the level of community forums, with an integration-based approach at the level of the police. We find that community forums in this context operate as de-facto male spaces and do not prioritize gender-based violence, while women-only forums do. In beats assigned to the gender-responsive model, male and female police officers' beliefs about citizens' prioritization of gender-based violence, as well as their own prioritization of such violence as a top concern improves. We draw on semi-structured interviews with police officers to explore mechanisms for this attitudinal change. Our findings demonstrate how context-specific norms can constrain the design of gender-equalizing reforms, as well as the promise of lasting gains when reforms are designed taking such norms seriously.

11-12:30 pm  

Panel Chair:

Tanushree Goyal, Harvard University

When Losing The State Drives Opposition to Redistribution: An Experiment in India

Abstract:  In historically ranked societies, groups are endowed social status as an accident of birth. We see vestiges of these ranked societies in countries like the US, India, South Africa, where legacies of enslavement, caste, apartheid and colonialism, endow groups with a social rank at birth. In many of these countries, high rank groups maintained their social dominance through their control of the state. What happens when they lose control of this instrument? We argue that dominant groups who have maintained status through control of the state will develop negative attitudes about redistribution upon experiencing a loss of control of the bureaucracy. For these groups, losing the state signals a major peril: the possibility that redistributive policies now lead to further social integration - including spatially - of their traditionally high-status community with other lower-ranked groups. An implication of this is that high rank groups may now reject redistributive policies that some of their poorer members may benefit from, as these may erase their dominant social status through greater integration. In that sense, we argue that members of high-status groups react differently from how we typically think about support for redistributive politics, which focuses on economic concerns and not status ones. In order to evaluate this claim, we use a survey-experiment in Uttar Pradesh to explore the reaction of rich and poor members of a socially high ranked group (here: members of “twice-born” castes) to information about a change in the identity of bureaucrats. Additionally, we probe if the degree to which they react to information about loss of control of the state is shaped by their historical level of social dominance. We contrast their reactions to those of a second type of group – one that is economically similar to the high status group but is socially low ranked (dominant OBC castes). This allows us to conjecture whether individuals with comparable economic standing react differently depending on whether they come from the high rank or low rank group.

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

AbstractHow does social status affect redistributive politics? While mainstream theories of welfare are premised on the material interests of social classes, I argue that in societies with long histories of ascriptive discrimination, mobilization aimed at reducing status hierarchy generates demands for descriptive representation in addition to economic redistribution, what I call the politics of dignity. I use a mixed methods approach to examine patterns in public spending at the subnational level in India over five decades. While I find less support for redistribution among upper-caste legislators, political elite from low-status groups have consistently pursued descriptive representation in state institutions through caste-based quotas. Rather than just patronage or symbolic politics, I demonstrate that caste quotas combined with political representation of mobilized low-status groups is associated with higher redistributive spending. Qualitative evidence from fieldwork further suggests that descriptive representation in the bureaucracy can weaken elite patronage networks, thereby reducing barriers to redistribution.

Claims, Complaints and Democratization of the Local State in India

Abstract: For decades, India was seen as one of the most centralized democracies in the world with the​ ​local state wielding little authority and capacity. This started changing with the introduction of a​ ​number of rights based laws between 2004 and 2013 which have increased the downward reach​ ​of the democratic state. The distinctive feature of this emerging welfare state is not just the legal​ ​entitlement to employment, food security and education but its commitment to delivering welfare​ ​in a manner that is transparent, accountable and participatory. The “audaciousness” of India’s​ ​rights based laws (Ruparelia 2013, Jenkins and Manor 2017, Harriss 2013) comes from its​ ​promise to deepen substantive democracy through a range of state-society interfaces for public​ ​participation, claim-making and oversight. These new legal openings in the state are not merely​ ​technocratic, “good governance” initiatives introduced from above but bear the stamp of​ ​movements and ordinary peoples’ long struggles against state power and are deeply contested

within and outside the state. Even though we would expect resistance to these reforms within​ ​bureaucracies with entrenched cultures of secrecy and opacity, it is striking that these local​ ​democratic interfaces have not only survived but expanded over the last decade. The influx of​ ​social spending into local governance structures has steadily increased, legal mandates for​ ​participation such as social audits and institutional mechanisms for grievance redress have been​ ​strengthened which has invited unprecedented claim-making by citizens and new modes of​ ​assertion by historically marginalized groups. The question that this paper seeks to answer is how​ ​are forums for legally backed participation and citizen oversight built and sustained over time in​ ​highly centralized bureaucracies and in deeply fragmented contexts?

In this paper I focus on the case of the Right to Public Grievance Redress Law introduced in​ ​Bihar in 2015. The law aims to increase access to public entitlements by guaranteeing time​ ​bound redress of claims and complaints across more than five hundred services from land and​ ​health to the distribution of subsidized food grain and sanitation infrastructure. The paper will​ ​trace the political origins of the law over two phases from ‘charismatic redress’ through janta​ ​darbars to ‘bureaucratic redress’ and finally to ‘legal redress’. I will show how the political and​ ​bureaucratic elite introduced new technologies of transparency that challenged the historical​ ​opacity and discretionary power of the bureaucracy in order to foster institutional activism and​ ​legal consciousness within the state. The second part of the paper will focus on the practice of​ ​the law. I find that the hearing in the redress process, becomes an important site where the​ ​dignity of the citizen is centered and fairness is performed, which even if momentary, diffuses​ ​into everyday practices of the local bureaucracy. As much as the complaint process and hearings​ ​can become forums for traditional caste, class and gender interests and structures to be​ ​reinforced, they also become powerful arenas for marginalized groups to assert themselves and​ ​claim their entitlements. They can also reorient decisions of the local state in favor of socially​ ​and politically marginalized groups and unsettle the traditional balance of power. In addition,​ ​receptivity increases with repeated exposure to legal claim-making. Finally, I will also show how​ ​the management of conflict, informal mentoring and selective use of punitive enforcement​ ​prevents the derailment of the law within the bureaucracy while creating incremental shifts in​ ​everyday interactions between the state and citizens.

Does local leadership lower bias in law enforcement? Evidence from experiments with India's rural politicians

AbstractDo elected local leaders lower bias in law enforcement? We conducted four vignette experiments with a representative sample of elected village representatives in Bihar. Each vignette randomly varies the gender and caste of a citizen in a distinct law enforcement situation - enforcement of lockdown rules, inheritance law, land encroachment, and the open-defecation-free policy. We find that local representatives intervene in law enforcement and, regardless of their gender or caste, strongly discriminate against (minority) women but only in the enforcement of the inheritance law. Conversely, we find little evidence for overt ethnic or gender discrimination in non-gender-progressive law enforcement vignettes. The results from the inheritance vignette replicate in a follow-up with elected village leaders who have judicial powers. Data indicate entrenched gender norms as the key explanation for underlying bias. The findings show that local leaders are unlikely to enforce progressive reforms that clash with entrenched gender norms, and have implications for the study of development and law enforcement in patriarchal settings.