Elite Parties, Poor Voters: How Social Services Win Votes in India

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Elite Parties, Poor Voters: How Social Services Win Votes in India
By Tariq Thachil
Cambridge University Press, 2014
352 pp. $99.00

Why do poor voters sometimes back parties whose policies mostly serve the interests of elites? Thachil studied two districts in India where wealthy backers of the upper-caste-based Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought to expand the party’s electoral support by funding one-teacher schools, village health workers, and other simple social services targeted at specific lower castes that had not yet been mobilized by other parties. This approach is different from two other strategies that parties can use to mobilize the poor to vote against their own interests: the use of caste-based or other identity-based appeals (which is possible only for a party that represents the interests of a mass base) and the employment of networks that distribute government welfare benefits selectively (which is possible only for a party that controls at least one level of government). Thachil’s study was conducted before the BJP’s victory in last year’s national elections, so more research will be needed to find out how fully his insight explains the party’s performance, as well as to explore its relevance to the behavior of elite parties in other countries.

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