This dynamic of electoral politics is infusing a pronounced anti-incumbency bias in India, says Mr Dilip Mookherjee, professor of economics at Boston University.
Mookherjee said this while delivering the fourth B. G. Kumar Memorial lecture at Centre for Development Studies (CDS) here.
His paper on ‘Government accountability: An overview of recent research findings’ focused on electoral affairs and government accountability in India.
“If voters are content with little, it will set low standards for elected officials and generate correspondingly low standards of governance,” he said.
‘Identity politics’ too could significantly lower electoral competition and Government accountability, at least in the short run.
Worse, it could combine with poor governance to alter traditional loyalty patterns as voters realise they have been taken for a ride.
Elaborating, he said increased local dominance of the Left in West Bengal was associated with fewer land reforms implemented.
“Maybe this accounts partly for recent reversals here as also in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This could progressively decide rise and fall of political fortunes of influential parties and politicians,” Mr Mookherjee observed.
“We also see evidence of both elite capture (of public good) and of political clientelism.
Clientelism results in targeting private benefits in favour of both the elite and vulnerable groups and bias against the cause of public good.
Capture and clientelism can and do co-exist; the latter is more difficult to detect.
Clientelism has been stepped up through recurring benefit programmes to keep citizens in a permanent state of dependency.
“This makes it difficult to evaluate Government accountability through observed patterns of targeting public services to the poor,” Mookherjee said.
He also cited increasing ethnicisation of politics with leaders developing caste, tribal, gender identities to reinforce ethnic and caste cleavages and build vote banks.