Transitions

An IiT Blog


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Cash, Candidates, and Campaigns

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

This week’s India in Transition (IiT) article was written by Michael Collins, a doctoral student in South Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Collins has described the impact of campaign finance laws in India and the creative ways that political parties have circumvented them.

“Two months ago, India conducted the largest democratic exercise in history. The 2014 General Election, enacted in nine phases over a five-week period, witnessed 553.8 million voters cast ballots to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha. The resurgence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) captured headlines and, in effect, diverted attention from a disconcerting growth in gross electoral spending. With an estimated $5 billion price tag, including a cost of nearly $600 million to the government exchequer, the recent election ranks among the costliest in the history of democracy…” Continue reading


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Western anti-capitalists take too much for granted

Dr. Devesh Kapur, Director of CASI
Dr. Devesh Kapur

In a recent opinion article in Financial Times, “Western anti-capitalists take too much for granted”, CASI Director Devesh Kapur argues that capitalism’s discontents should look to India for an example of the empancipatory power of capitalist economic growth.BpX2xiFCYAA3VDI

The article comes after the launch of CASI’s newest publication, Defying the Odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs, written by Kapur with D. Shyam Babu and Chandra Bhan Prasad, CASI research affiliates and former CASI Visiting Scholars.The book project was made possible through a multi-year research grant on Dalit Entrepreneurship from the John Templeton Foundation. The book was launched this month and is available in India through Random House India. Read More.

Order your copy through Flipkart and or Amazon.


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Land Shackled

CASI Director Devesh Kapur, TV Somanathan and Arvind Subramanian argue the case for land reform in a recent two-part series in Business Standard.

“Capital, labour, or land? ‘Which of these is the binding constraint?’ is one diagnostic question the new government should be asking itself as it seeks to revive the sputtering Indian growth engine…” Continue reading Part I of “Land Shackled.” 

“How can India reduce the severe distortions in land regulation and acquisition to ensure that land facilitates rather than impedes development? We propose four policy reforms…” Continue reading Part II of “Land Shackled.” 


Random House India Launches CASI’s Dalit Entrepreneur Book in Delhi

Defying the Odds book coverOn July 19 at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, Random House India will launch the book, Defying the Odds: The Rise of the Dalit Entrepreneurs with authors – Devesh Kapur, CASI Director, and D. Shyam Babu and Chandra Bhan Prasad, who are both CASI research affiliates and former CASI Visiting Scholars. A panel discussion with the authors will include T. N. Ninan, Chairman, Business Standard, Rajiv Lall, Executive Chairman, IDFC, Milind Kamble, Chairman, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), and moderated by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, Centre for Policy Research.

This book project was funded by a multi-year grant awarded to CASI from the John Templeton Foundation.

Defying the Odds is about the new Dalit identity. It profiles the phenomenal rise of twenty-one Dalit entrepreneurs, the few who through a combination of grit, ambition, drive and hustle—and some luck—have managed to break through social, economic and practical barriers. It illustrates instances where adversity compensated for disadvantage, where working their way up from the bottom instilled in Dalit entrepreneurs a much greater resilience as well as a willingness to seize opportunities in sectors and locations eschewed by more privileged business groups.

Traditional Dalit narratives are marked by struggle for identity, rights, equality and for inclusion. These inspiring stories capture both the difficulty of their circumstances as well as their extraordinary steadfastness, while bringing to light the possibilities of entrepreneurship as a tool of social empowerment.

The book project was made possible by a multi-year research grant on Dalit Entrepreneurship CASI was awarded from the John Templeton Foundation.

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Understanding India’s Counterinsurgency Strategy Against the Naxal Threat

Sameer Lalwani

Sameer Lalwani

Will the new Modi government make any significant changes in India’s strategy against the Naxalite insurgency?

This week’s India in Transition article attempts to answer that question by looking at the government’s policy on the Naxal situation over the past ten years. The author is Sameer Lalwani, a doctoral student at MIT in political science and pre-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University.

“On the campaign trail, Chief Minister Narendra Modi touted muscular rhetoric and a “zero tolerance” policy towards Naxalism, but those expecting Prime Minister Modi’s government to overhaul the existing strategy – his plan to tinker at the margins notwithstanding – should not hold their breath. The Naxal insurgency was described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India’s “single biggest internal-security challenge” and estimated to affect one-third of India’s districts.” Keep reading…


Voter turnout and the Modi Wave

The 2014 General Election generated India’s highest ever voter turnout rate, at 66%, a sharp increase from the 58% turnout in 2009. However, many questions remain about the precise relationship between turnout and the outcome of the election.

In these elections, the BJP won 282 out of 543 contestable seats on just 31% of the vote share. In my last piece, I showed how this outcome was a function of BJP’s strike rate in head-to-head contests against Congress (and against embattled regional parties in two states, Bihar and UP), which demonstrated BJP’s ability to project a convincing national vision (unlike Congress). At the same time, there was extreme regional polarization in BJP’s support, which pointed to the limits of BJP’s message in states with strong regional parties and identities.

A deeper analysis of the voter turnout in these elections provides more evidence for these arguments, while clarifying the relationship between voter turnout and BJP support and shedding light on BJP’s prospects for holding on to power in the future.

Changes in Turnout and Partisan Support

The dominant narrative in this election was that of a “Modi Wave,” which referred to then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s ability to bring new (or passive) voters to the polls and create a swell of support for the BJP.

In order to test this narrative, I have analyzed the change in the voter turnout rate between 2009 and 2014 across parliamentary constituencies and the likelihood of BJP winning in a constituency in which it was contesting the election. The data provides strong evidence for the Modi Wave narrative, showing a clear relationship between an increase in voter turnout and support for the BJP.

In the 116 constituencies in which the BJP contested the election where the increase in the turnout rate was less than 5 percent (to include constituencies where turnout stagnated or declined since 2009), it won only 24 percent of the time. By contrast, in the 312 constituencies in which the BJP contested and the turnout increase was more than 5 percent, the BJP won 81 percent of the time.  For the more statistically inclined, figure 1(b) displays a flexible empirical model demonstrating the relationship between differences in turnout and the likelihood of  BJP victory. According to the model, the BJP crosses the threshold of an even chance of the winning the constituency at approximately a 5.3 percent increase in voter turnout. As the increase in turnout moves towards 20 to 25 percent, a BJP win becomes almost a certainty.

figure1turnout

The relationship between increasing turnout and BJP support does not necessarily imply that new voters supported the BJP more than existing voters, but it seems likely that new voters were disproportionately supporters of the BJP. The post-poll survey conducted by Lokniti/CSDS provides some suggestive evidence on this front. Newly enfranchised young voters, aged 18 to 22, supported the BJP over Congress 39 percent to 19 percent. By contrast, those over the age of 56, more likely to be seasoned voters, supported the BJP over Congress 31 percent to 23 percent. In fact, it may very well have been the energy generated in mobilizing new BJP supporters that engendered large shifts in the existing electorate.

While this analysis tells us that when new voters were mobilized the BJP tended to win, it does not tell us the extent to which voters explicitly showed up for the BJP. In other words, did voters specifically show up for the BJP, and, if so, when?

In this analysis, as in the previous piece, a party was said to be competitive if it was one of the top two vote getters in a constituency. I also showed that in head-to-head contests between the BJP and Congress, where the BJP and Congress were the top two vote getters, the BJP had a spectacular strike rate of 88 percent.

The data show that voters were not particularly mobilized when the BJP was not contesting or, indeed, competitive. In the 115 constituencies in which BJP did not contest election, the average increase in voter turnout was 4.3 percent, and in the 92 constituencies in which the BJP was not competitive, the average increase in vote turnout was just 2.1 percent.

However, when the BJP was competitive, especially in head-to-head contests with Congress, voters were extremely mobilized. In the 189 constituencies in which the BJP went head-to-head against Congress, the average increase in voter turnout was an astonishing 11.4 percent.  Even in the 147 constituencies in which the BJP was competitive against other (non-Congress) parties, the average increase in voter turnout was 9.7 percent.

figure2turnout

Regional Variation in Changes in Turnout

Much like the vote share for the BJP, the change in voter turnout displays significant regional variation at the constituency level. As the analysis above suggests, changes in turnout closely track constituencies in which the BJP won. Figure 3 displays, side-by-side, a heat map of increases in voter turnout and a map of where the BJP won.

 figure3turnoutupdated

Historically, the variation in voter turnout in Indian general elections has been driven by differences at the state level. One of the major stories of this election is the narrowing of differences in turnout between “high” and “low” turnout states. Of the 15 most populous states in India, 4 states had a turnout rate less than 50 percent in 2009, with Bihar the lowest at only 44 percent. In 2014, turnout rates of the low turnout states increased significantly; the lowest turnout rate of these 15 states was 56 percent (Bihar again). At the same time, most of the high turnout states did not register significantly greater turnout rates in 2014, suggesting little room for additional mobilization in these states.

figure4turnout

In the previous piece, I identified six states in which the BJP did particularly well, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. In these states, the BJP had a strike rate of 91 percent and won 69 percent of their total seats. Figure 4 demonstrates that these six states are among the lowest turnout states, in both 2009 and 2014, out of the 15 most populous states in India. Starting from a low base, these states provided a natural reservoir for the BJP to bring in new voters.

I also demonstrated that the BJP did particularly poorly in five states, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, with a strike rate of just 7 percent. These 5 states are among the 6 highest turnout states in figure 4. With the exception of Odisha, they also display small changes in voter turnout. With populations already mobilized through strong regional parties, and little existing electoral base, the BJP had little scope to mobilize a large share of new voters in these states.

Interpreting the Data

These data demonstrate that there was, in fact, a Modi Wave; the success of the BJP was closely tied to mobilizing new voters. When many new voters were mobilized, the BJP was very likely to win the constituency. Voters also specifically came out to vote in constituencies where the BJP was competitive, and more so in constituencies in which the BJP was engaged in head-to-head battles with Congress.

The data also show that the states in which the BJP has performed poorly are precisely the states with very high turnout. This means that if the BJP is to consolidate power in these states, it will have to do so without mobilizing new voters but converting existing ones. In other words, in addition to dealing with a weak electoral base, the BJP will have to change the minds of voters who may already be mobilized through strong regional parties.

In this election, the BJP projected a national vision of restoring economic growth and macroeconomic stability to India. The scale of voter mobilization suggests that the BJP was offering a national vision that especially appealed to previously apathetic voters. Voter apathy results from believing that all of the existing choices offer little scope for political or economic change.

The BJP presented a different option, but if it wants to consolidate power it will have to deliver on its mandate. The BJP’s particular ability to mobilize voters against Congress only underscores the popular frustration with Congress’ handling of the economy.

Modi will have to disregard the many countervailing pressures being placed on him and act decisively on his “economy-first” mandate. Previously apathetic voters are more likely to become apathetic again, and the BJP is unlikely to extend its base too much regionally. If Modi wants to hold on to the voters he mobilized, he will have to demonstrate that he can stay away from political appeasement and focus on righting the economy.  The upcoming budget is his first test.

Neelanjan Sircar is a Visiting Dissertation Research Fellow at CASI


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Ensuring Education for the Children of India’s Migrants

This article also appears in India in Transition

The seasonal migrant labor population of India is estimated by some migration scholars to be as high as 100 million. Labor migrants face barriers in accessing social services and settling permanently in urban areas and often prefer to keep their link with the village, especially during the agricultural season. As a result, they “circulate” between their village and various “destination areas” for labor work, spending significant portions of the year away from home.

While migration can open new economic possibilities for families, it also comes with high risks. These risks are disproportionately felt by the children of migrants who are often compelled to travel to worksites with their parents. Some have estimated that around six million school-aged children in India participate in family-based labor migration every year. Millions more are impacted indirectly, forced to take on most of the household responsibilities in their parent’s absence. Unfortunately, the Indian administration at the central and state level has not made migrant children a priority and has been negligent and inconsistent in addressing the unique vulnerabilities of such children.

Consider the case of the migratory hostel program run by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA, “Education for All”), India’s flagship program for universalizing elementary education. The idea is simple but effective: at the request of the local school, students who would otherwise be forced to migrate with their parents are allowed to stay in the primary school building for the six-month migration period. SSA provides for two wardens hired from the community, meals, and some basic supplies. The program is cost-effective because it uses facilities that are already available at the local school. Participants in the program benefit from the positive environment where they can focus on their studies and stay within the safety of their own village.

Unfortunately, due to a “change in priorities,” the central government has decided to deny funding to Rajasthan’s eighty migratory hostels for the upcoming year. Closing this program– a small component of SSA’s budget– will have deep repercussions for many vulnerable families in Rajasthan. Evidence from my fieldwork in Southern Rajasthan, as well as a review of social protection strategies for migrants, shows that “source-based” intervention in the areas where migrants originate, like migratory hostels, are needed to prevent child migration and child labor.

The urban areas of central Gujarat have long been a popular destination for poor migrants from Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities living to the north and east in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. Much of the seasonal labor for the brick kiln, construction, cotton ginning, and agricultural industries in Gujarat is sourced from this area. In Southern Rajasthan, many ST families (mostly of the Bhil and Garasia tribe) depend on migration to make ends meet.

A private bus transports construction laborers to Surat from a remote village in Southern Rajasthan.

A private bus transports construction laborers to Surat from a remote village in Southern Rajasthan.

Due to high poverty levels, female participation in migrant labor is high. A 1997 study on migration in the area led by David Mosse found that 42 percent of the migrant workforce from the Bhil area was female. My survey in villages in Banswara district of Southern Rajasthan found that 75 percent of women and 82 percent of men had migrated to Gujarat for work at least once in their lifetime. While almost all ST families in this area own some land, their landholdings are small and often unproductive, with few having access to irrigation. Massive deforestation in the region has also limited opportunities for these communities which, at one time, were able to sustain their livelihood off of the forest.

While some have been able to harness their earnings from migrant labor to move ahead economically, most remain burdened with economic insecurity and indebtedness to local moneylenders. Because most of their income comes from migrant labor, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) program has had little effect on the migration patterns of families in Southern Rajasthan. While 79 percent of adults surveyed reported that they had participated in the program, only a few families said it had impacted their migration behavior; 75 percent of adults who reported they had migrated within the past year had also participated in the MNREGA program at least once.

Reliance on migrant labor as a livelihood strategy has major costs to the family. For the most marginalized communities engaged in migration, the whole family must migrate to the worksite because they have no place to leave their children in the home village. The Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action estimates that there are 840,000 out-of-school children at brick kilns alone. In Banswara, I found that 34 percent of the migrant households had taken at least one child with them to worksites that year. Children can begin helping their parents at the construction worksite from age twelve, but work begins as early as age five in the brick kiln industry, where the piecemeal wage system encourages child labor.

Children brought to worksites face the risk of injury, illness, and exploitation, while missing out on educational opportunities that might have helped them escape the cycle of poverty. Various NGOs, many with funding by the American India Foundation (AIF), have piloted educational outreach for children at worksites. Worksites cannot be easily made into education-friendly environments, however, making any benefits from such interventions marginal. Accordingly, AIF, which supports migratory hostel programs for high-migration areas in three states, has shifted its Learning and Migration Program (LAMP) from a dual focus on source and destination areas to one entirely source village-centric.

For children left in the village when both parents migrate, most or all of the household responsibilities fall to them. This has led to an increasing incidence of child-headed households in Southern Rajasthan, which was documented recently by Save the Children. In their parent’s absence, children as young as twelve must manage all household responsibilities and care for younger siblings, leaving them little to no time to attend school. For most primary schools in Banswara, attendance dwindles as the academic year progresses, especially after the migration season begins post-Diwali. Many schools I visited had a dropout rate of around 25 percent.

Many of Rajasthan 410,957 out-of-school children have exited the school system due to migration pressures. Re-integrating those children into the school system is done through SSA’s “Special Training Programs” (STPs), bridge courses to prepare them academically for entry into the “age appropriate” standard in school. This is a daunting task both for the hired contract teacher and for the students, who may have already been in the workforce for a few years. It is not surprising, therefore, that many STPs fail. During the year I conducted fieldwork in Banswara, over a third of the STPs in the district had to be shut down by SSA. The most successful STPs were the ones with residential facilities like the migratory hostels.

Re-integrating students is a challenge. Since migration-induced dropouts account for much of the out-of-school population, particularly in the ST areas, it makes sense to invest in dropout prevention. The migratory hostels, as well as the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyala (KGBV) program of girls’ residential primary schools, have both proven to be effective in preventing migration-induced dropouts. Expanding both of these programs should be recognized as integral to the government’s strategy for preventing child labor and school dropout.

Research across India is beginning to piece together a picture of an increasingly mobile labor class.  Addressing the risks faced by this population, especially those risks felt by the children of migrants, must be made a key priority in order for India to meet its development targets. Source-based interventions can protect children from the greatest risks of migration and ensure that no family is forced to remove their children from school due to migratory pressures.

Megan Reed is a CASI Research Coordinator. She was a 2012-13 Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Fellow.

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