New research shows constituencies ruled by dynasts in India lag in both economic and social development
Political families in India have been generally bad for development, with constituencies of dynastic members of parliament (MPs) lagging in both economic activity and social indices such as health services, a new research paper by two economists from Harvard (USA) and Mannheim (Germany) universities have found.

According to the paper “Understanding the economic impacts of political dynasties: theory and evidence from India”, dynastic MPs not only perform worse on objective measures of economic development, “they are also assessed by voters to perform worse.” This result is mainly driven by negative assessments from voters who do not share the MP’s caste or religious background.

The paper, jointly authored by Harvard University’s Siddharth Eapen George and University of Mannheim’s Dominic Ponattu, shows that between 1999 and 2014, constituencies where dynasts win, night-time electricity availability has grown, on an average, 6.5 percentage points slower compared to constituencies where dynasts lose.

The paper, published last Thursday, used night-time luminosity or electricity availability as a measure of local economic activity. “Our baseline result is that dynastic rule results in slower growth of night time luminousity.

The findings come at a crucial time in Indian politics with the BJP-led government at the Centre sparing no punches in expressing its disdain for Congress’s style of dynastic politics. Top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on several occasions, have not hesitated to taunt the Nehru-Gandhi family-led Congress for refusing to look beyond family scions to lead the party.

The BJP, which rode to a landslide in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, have progressively wrested power in a string of state elections. Most recently, it stormed to power in Uttar Pradesh—India’s largest state with a population of more than 200 million—winning 312 seats in a 403 member Assembly, handing a crushing defeat to the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress alliance led by Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, respectively.

The research paper defines a “dynast” as a candidate with at least one family member who has previously held political office in the state or Parliament.

By this definition, nearly 16 percent winners of winners and runners-up in Lok Sabha elections over the past two decades are dynasts. Moreover, most are close connections: two-thirds of dynastic politicians are sons, daughters or spouses (usually wife) of a current or former office-holder.

The paper shows that dynastic rule worsens public good provision on nearly every measure. Most Indians study in public schools, so the availability of public schools in the village is important. According to the paper dynastic rule has negligible impact on the education public goods index comprising the availability of government pre-primary, primary, middle, secondary and senior secondary schools.

It also shows the effect of dynastic rule worsens the healthcare public infrastructure index, comprising community health centres. Such constituencies also fare poorly on measures such  as treated tap water, closed drainage, any drainage, total sanitation program coverage, and a system of garbage collection.

On transportation public goods – the availability of public bus services and major, black topped and gravel roads—the study concludes that dynastic rule reduces availability of these public services compared to other constituencies.

A similar trend is also seen on financial services that includes presence of commercial banks, cooperative banks, and agricultural credit societies, social welfare infrastructure, such as public distribution shops and entertainment services such as availability of community centres, sports fields and clubs, and cinema halls. Constituencies with dynastic rule, according to the study, rank poorly on these metrics as well.