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Post-Clientelistic Initiatives in a Patronage Democracy: The (Non) Distribution of Pork in India’s MGNREGA

Development
Governance
India
Political Competition
Social Policy
Third World Politics
Mixed Methods
Institutions
Diego Maiorano
University of Nottingham
Upasak Das
University of Pennsylvania
Diego Maiorano
University of Nottingham

Abstract

Can ‘post-clientelistic’ initiatives actually exist in a “patronage democracy”? We answer this question by looking at the distribution of jobs under India’s Mahatma Gandhi national Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA), the largest workfare programme in the world. The MGNREGA confers the right to obtain employment on demand to all rural households in India. We use a unique dataset that includes census and MGNREGA implementation data for the state of Andhra Pradesh (2009-17) across two state elections (in 2009 and 2014). Using regression analysis, we show that the ruling party uses the programme to distribute ‘pork’ only to a very limited extent. In particular, the ruling party targets core constituencies, but not in terms of providing more work to the people, but in terms of spending significantly more on procurement of material, presumably to reward the network of contractors that supported them during the electoral campaign. Otherwise, implementation is surprisingly neutral, also in the sense that the ruling party’s most powerful politicians do not get more work in their constituencies. We use qualitative as well as quantitative evidence to suggest that these results are a function of the political economy that shapes the implementation of the programme: politicians distribute ‘pork’ to contractors but not to labourers – which would have clear electoral advantages – as doing so would meet the hostility of an important constituency in rural areas: the large farmers, who resent higher availability of non-farm work in their areas.