Working Paper Series

Constituency Service, Decentralization, and Citizen Behavior in India

Authors

  • Jennifer Bussell, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley

History

  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (December 2013)

Abstract

Constituency service is an important element of Indian legislator activity. Early interest in the importance of the personal vote in India paid particular attention to the relevance of Indian electoral institutions for promoting the supply of constituency service to Indian citizens. Yet analysts have paid little attention to the potential effects of other institutional characteristics, such as the major decentralization reforms of the 1990s, on the nature of politician-citizen interactions. In this paper I use survey evidence from citizens in the south Indian state of Karnataka to show that, despite nearly two decades of formal political and fiscal decentralization in the state, in the majority of cases citizens continue to rely on the assistance of state-level politicians to navigate the state bureaucracy rather than their local counterparts. In addition I find that party affiliation, rather than demographic characteristics such as gender or caste, plays a predominant role in shaping both whom citizens have asked for help in the past and who they expect they would ask for help in the future. These findings contrast with the literature on decentralization that emphasizes the importance of decentralization for increasing the representation of minority groups and highlights the important role of party politics in linking constituents to their representatives and the resources controlled by those representatives.