Networks, Commitment, and Competence: Caste in Indian Local Politics
This paper widens the scope of the emerging literature on economic networks by assessing the role of caste networks in Indian local politics. We test the hypothesis that these networks can discipline their members to overcome political commitment problems, enabling communities to select their most competent representatives, while at the same time ensuring that they honor the public goods preferences of their constituents. Using detailed data on local public goods at the street level and the characteristics of constituents and their elected representatives at the ward level over multiple terms, and exploiting the random system of reserving local council seats for caste groups, we find that caste discipline results in the election of representatives with superior observed characteristics and the provision of a significantly greater level of public goods. This improvement in political competence occurs without apparently diminishing leaders' responsiveness to the preferences of their constituents, although the constituency is narrowly defined by the sub-caste rather than the electorate as a whole.
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