Apurva Bamezai

PhD Candidate

Political Science

University of Pennsylvania

The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics
133 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215


Public Sector Employment as a Pathway to Local Electoral Politics: Evidence from Rural India

Abstract: Political selection is critical for how well democracies function. An important strand in the literature on political selection focuses on occupations and professions that lead to political entry. In this article, I study a highly coveted occupation in developing countries – public sector employment – to investigate if it can be a pathway to electoral politics. I develop a theory of political entry at the household level and test how acquiring a public sector job influences supply-side (entry barriers) and demand-side (voter perceptions) factors affecting political entry in the context of local elected government in rural India. Using the India Human Development Survey (a nationally representative panel dataset of over 40,000 households) and employing a difference-in-differences framework, I find that acquiring public sector employment by a member of the household is associated with higher political entry at the household level. I offer evidence to suggest that documented supply-side constraints to political entry –  like household income and political and social networks – are more easily overcome by such households. Next, I investigate demand-side consequences via conjoint experiments in the state of Bihar in India and find that citizens perceive individuals having a government worker in the family as more likely to contest and win local Panchayat elections. The conjoint set up also helps pin down mechanisms such as financial status, knowledge, political networks, social connections and prestige that influence voter perceptions regarding candidates from households with a member with a government job. 

Learning to Govern: The Impact of Politicians’ Peer Networks

(with Siddharth George, Siddharth Hari, and M. R. Sharan
Abstract: Policies that broaden political representation empower new leaders who may lack knowledge of how government works. We study whether peer networks among local politicians facilitate knowledge transfer and improve the quality of governance. We run an experiment in partnership with the Government of Bihar, India, where we organised peer groups for randomly selected village leaders. We examine whether these peer networks increase politicians’ knowledge of how to manage the development programs under their charge and improve the delivery of public services. We also test whether politicians from marginalised groups benefit more from peer networks. To understand mechanisms, we test if peer groups diffuse information about governance best practices and help politicians organise collective action.

Who Becomes a Local Politician? Evidence from Rural India 

  • Draft paper available here
Abstract: Can local democracy in areas of weak state capacity attract competent leaders while simultaneously ensuring adequate representation of disadvantaged groups? Matching census data of 95 million rural residents and nearly 1 million local politicians from Bihar, we uncover the following facts about politicians’ competence and representativeness. First, absent political quotas, Bihar’s local electoral system comprises a “partially exclusive meritocracy”. Politicians are from more elite backgrounds, but among the elites, the more educated contest and win. Our results suggest a trade-off between competence and representativeness, with women, members of disadvantaged castes, lower ranked candidates and lower tiers of government demonstrating less positive selection and less elite backgrounds. Moreover, while selection patterns vary by various village characteristics such as inequality and caste heterogeneity, these do not fundamentally change the “partially exclusive meritocracy” characterisation. Subsequently, we argue that policy intervention can meaningfully influence selection. Firstly, using a difference-in-differences design, we show that a policy move to devolve financial powers attracts a larger and more competent pool of candidates. Secondly, using a fuzzy regression discontinuity design (RDD), we show that gender-based reservation democratizes selection at not just the individual-level, but also at the household level by encouraging entry of candidates with lower household incomes and wealth. Lastly, using a close election RD approach, we explore the influence of leaders’ education on policy implementation. We find no systematic relationship. Taken together, our findings highlight the significance of studying the fiercely competitive landscape of local democracy in understanding the causes and consequences of political selection.

Mere Proxies or Genuine Leaders? Female Candidates in Village Council Elections in India 

  • Awarded the Penn GAPSA-Provost Fellowship Award
  • Draft paper available on request

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