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Does clientelism explain patterns of party support in India?
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Yes, it is true to an extent that Clientelism can explain the patterns of party support in India. There is enough historical and contemporary evidence to support this statement. In the early years after independence, India's political discourse was dominated by a single party only at the central level and also in most states. (Chandra, 2004) This dominance continued until it was first disturbed after the emergency was lifted. The end of emergency marked the beginning of an era of true multi-party democracy in India. (Dixit, 1996) However, post Mandal report, the political support for parties became extremely fragmented. Therefore, parties started to place more and more reliance on clientelism to garner support in the elections. The weak legal framework regarding the conduct of election further amplified the ability of political parties to come up with innovative ways to circumvent the existing system. (Goldstone, 2003) It was hoped that, with continued economic growth, there would be a decline in such practices. However, recent protests with regard to the reservation policy in the state of Gujarat clearly indicated that the days of clientelism are far from over in India. The issue with regard to clientelism in Indian politics can be analysed in three phases:
In the initial years, the instruments for using the policy of clientelism were very limited in the sense that the majority of the population lived in rural areas. The electorate could be easily wooed by ingratiating with the people belonging from the upper-caste. (Herring, 1988) There was also an initial euphoria of independence which controlled the extent to which clientelism could impact the voting behaviour. However, the money and muscle power of the upper-caste politicians was an important and relevant factor for gravitating the vote of lower-caste Hindus to the Congress party.
These years can be described as the most tumultuous years for Indian politics since there was an unprecedented rise in the influence of the regional parties. (Weiner, 1967) This compelled the major national parties to resort to the instruments of clientelism in terms of freebies, assurance of reserved quotas for certain caste groups etc. (Kothari, 1964) The role of clientelism was particularly enhanced in the politics of South India where this practice continues to influence voting patterns. (Desai, 2007)