The 2018 Karnataka assembly election is done and dusted. This year’s iteration was a long and strange trip that saw countless twists and turns.
I wrote a short piece for the Hindustan Times on the implications of the election for India’s domestic politics. Here’s a taste:
Karnataka could prove a bittersweet victory for the Congress. This is a state in which the party hurled everything but the kitchen sink at the BJP, yet still finds itself at the mercy of a smaller coalition ally….[H]owever diminished its standing, a coalition government in which the Congress is a prominent part will help it both substantively and materially.
For Foreign Policy, I wrote a longer essay on how the Karnataka shenanigans shine a light on India’s democratic underbelly. A brief excerpt:
Arguably the biggest loser is Indian democracy. The Karnataka soap opera would be highly entertaining, if it did not so effectively shine a light on the underbelly of Indian elections. As in President Donald Trump’s United States, in India, divisive politics is ratings gold. Beneath the surface, however, lasting damage to norms and institutions is eroding trust in the system.
The HT piece can be found here and the longer Foreign Policy article is here.
In India, there is a commonly held belief that higher turnout in elections is inherently bad for incumbents. While the origins of this piece of received wisdom are unclear, it is a trope that is carted out after each and every election. In a new piece as part of our India Elects 2019 series (done in collaboration with the Hindustan Times, Johnny Guy and I examine the association between turnout and incumbency drawing on a dataset of more than 120 state elections between 1980 and 2012. We find no empirical relationship between the two. We write:
What our analyses do reveal is that, despite the popularity of the notion that citizens come out to the polls in greater numbers when they are motivated to punish the incumbent government, three decades of electoral data present a more ambiguous picture. Voter turnout, the data suggest, is not necessarily pro- or anti-incumbent; rather, the relationship between these two variables is likely shaped by the specific context at hand. Similar analyses using national election data conducted by other researchers tell a comparable story: changes in voter turnout are not highly informative of future electoral outcomes.
You can find our piece here (and below) and the original journal article (published in Studies in Indian Politics) here.
For those in D.C., Carnegie is hosting the second installment in our #IndiaElects2019 series on Tuesday, May 8 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. An all-star cast–James Crabtree of the LKY School, Sadanand Dhume of AEI, and Tanvi Madan of Brookings–will discuss the Modi government’s first four years in office and the pivot to next year’s general elections, scheduled for Spring 2019. The conversation will cover economics, politics, foreign policy and everything in between.
You can RSVP here. For those not in Washington, we’ll post video as soon as the event is done.
Today, we launched a brand new Carnegie Endowment initiative called “India Elects 2019.” This initiative, which builds on what we did four years ago (with “India Decides 2014“), attempts to provide timely research and analysis on electoral trends in India ahead of next year’s general election.
The first essay in the series, “From Cakewalk to Contest,” provides a macro picture of where the race stands today. Here’s a glimpse:
Electoral outcomes are notoriously difficult to predict in India’s fragmented, hypercompetitive democracy. But one need not go out on a limb to declare that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be the clear favorite if the election were held today…Yet the election’s clear front-runner is far from invulnerable, despite anticipation of a BJP cakewalk in 2019. Although the intricacies of the upcoming race—such as the selection of candidates and the rhetoric of campaigns—remain unknown one year out, underlying structural conditions suggest far rockier terrain may lie ahead. In particular, four crucial objectives keep BJP strategists up at night: expanding beyond regional strongholds, recruiting new—and retaining old—coalition partners, withstanding a disappointing economic performance, and contending with fluctuations in voter mobilization. The party’s performance in the 2019 election will hinge largely on its ability to address these potential vulnerabilities and the opposition’s ability to exploit them.
This year, we have partnered with the Hindustan Times, which will carry our original content in print and online. We will also collaborate with them on infographics and video. HT put together a lovely full-page spread for our inaugural piece:
You can read the full Carnegie essay here.
Max Rodenbeck of The Economist has an excellent essay on Modi and the BJP in the April 19 edition of the New York Review of Books. The essay is primarily a review of Prashant Jha’s excellent, How the BJP Wins, but the author very kindly weaves in a review of my own book, When Crime Pays. Here’s a selection:
In recent years the BJP has mopped up an ever-growing share of this pool; the election commission says that 80 percent of all corporate political funding in Gujarat in the three years before November’s election went to Modi’s party. As Milan Vaishnav points out in When Crime Pays, a thorough, disturbing, and often amusing scholarly analysis of the seamy side of Indian politics, this imbalance may be seen as payback. In the 1960s, Congress received as much as thirty times more in corporate donations than any other party.
The essay is very well-crafted and highly readable. You can read the entire thing here.
I cannot recommend Snigdha Poonam’s new book, Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing Their World, strongly enough. I found it to be one of the most insightful books of recent vintage when it comes to explaining the social churning that is going on in 21st century India.
I wrote a review of the book for Foreign Affairs. Here’s the key takeaway:
Dreamers smashes the slick hype that has been constructed around India’s aspiring middle classes, calling our attention to the corruption, frustration, and dashed hopes bubbling beneath the surface. It may be convenient for India’s elites to whitewash these inconvenient truths. But, as Poonam shows, it would also be suicidal.
You can read the full review here.
Last week, I published a lengthy column in Mint on the credibility crisis facing India’s elite institutions.
To make a long story short, we have long assumed that India’s apex institutions function reasonably well even while its lower level limbs and appendages struggle. This is at the core of Lant Pritchett’s notion of India as a “flailing” state. Unfortunately, recent events raise questions about just how healthy the “head”–these elite institutions–are.
To quote the piece:
Against this backdrop, one cannot help but reflect on recent events and wonder whether India’s elite institutions are as healthy as we had once thought. In the last 12 months, each of the aforementioned institutions [the Election Commission of India, Reserve Bank of India, and the Supreme Court] has experienced a crisis of credibility. These events—and the systemic infirmities they point to—suggest that we should no longer take the health of these apex institutions for granted.
You can read the entire column here.