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Politicians, Bureaucrats, and Development: Evidence from India


When do politicians prompt bureaucrats to provide effective services? Leveraging the uneven overlap of jurisdictions in India, we compare bureaucrats supervised by a single political principal with those supervised by multiple politicians. With an original dataset of nearly half a million villages, we find that implementation of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the largest employment program in the world, is substantially better where bureaucrats answer to a single politician. Regression discontinuity estimates help increase confidence that this result is causal. Our findings suggest that politicians face strong incentives to motivate bureaucrats as long as they internalize the benefits from doing so. In contrast to a large literature on the deleterious effects of political interventions, our results show that political influence may be more favorable to development than is commonly assumed.

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Corresponding author
Saad Gulzar is Ph.D. Candidate, Wilf Family Department of Politics, New York University, 19 West 4th St. 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10012 (
Benjamin J. Pasquale is an independent researcher (
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The authors thank Graeme Blair, Eric Dickson, Guy Grossman, Patrick James, Woo Chang Kang, Horacio Larreguy, Livio Di Londardo, Umberto Mignozzetti, Karthik Muralidharan, Dan Posner, Alan Potter, Pablo Querubin, Peter Rosendorff, Cyrus Samii, Shanker Satyanath, David Stasavage, Jake Shapiro, Bryce Steinberg, and Austin Wright for helpful discussions and insightful comments. We also thank Himanshu Mistry at NYU Library Data Services for his assistance with GIS. We thank discussants and seminar participants at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, American University, New York University, Princeton University, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and Yale University.
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