OPINION

Dynasties and development

Dynastic politics is an oft-repeated term in Indian political discourse. Most major political parties are helmed by people who are the sons, daughters or relatives of prominent leaders. At the parliamentary constituency level, how does a dynastic politician perform, both during elections and as a legislator, compared to other candidates who do not come from dynasties? This is the question that researchers Siddharth Eapen George and Dominic Ponattu sought to answer in their working paper, “How do political dynasties affect economic development? Theory and Evidence from India”. It was recently presented at the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economies hosted by the World Bank.

The researchers looked at 1,05,000 Indian politicians across Assembly and parliamentary elections from 2003 onwards. They compiled dynastic connections using the nomination papers of the candidates, and combined that with the data collected by Patrick French (who had also tabulated dynastic politicians before 2014). In order to study the outcomes of the presence of dynastic and non-dynastic candidates, the authors restricted the comparison between them to closely contested races, as in such races there are no particular reasons for a candidate’s close victory over his/ her immediate competitor.

The authors measured the following variables to study the impact of the winning candidate: night light variation (as a proxy for economic growth); public goods distribution (efficacy of public schemes effected by the legislator, such as availability of schools, healthcare services, and so on); and subjective responses in surveys when people were asked about a legislator’s performance. They found that the performance of dynastic politicians and legislators was poorer compared to non-dynastic ones in all the three categories. This finding is consistent with studies in other democracies.

The authors concluded that dynasts are over-represented in Indian politics as they have electoral advantages, but “dynastic descendants underperform in office”. This is because while dynasts inherit voters easily from their predecessors, the very fact of a loyal vote base could “mute performance incentives”, thereby lowering their performance levels.

Interestingly, the authors also found that politicians who have sons perform better in office, which suggests that this is an incentive to establish a dynasty (“bequesting”).