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Subnationalism and Social Development: A Comparative Analysis of Indian States


The quality of life that a person leads depends critically on where it is led. Even taking into account levels of economic development, the chances of an individual surviving through infancy, growing up literate, or living a healthy, long life vary dramatically across regions of the world, in different countries, and within the same country. What are the causes of such variation in wellbeing? This article points to a factor that has been virtually ignored in the vast scholarship on social welfare and development—the solidarity that emerges from a sense of shared identity. The argument marks an important departure from the traditional emphasis on the role of class and electoral politics, as well as from the dominant view of the negative implications of identity for welfare. Combining statistical analyses of all Indian states and a comparative historical analysis of two Indian provinces, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, this article demonstrates how the strength of attachment to the subnational political community—subnationalism—can drive a progressive social policy and improve developmental outcomes.

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* I would like to acknowledge the helpful suggestions for improving this work from Atul Kohli, Mark Beissinger, Melani Cammett, Sarah Chartock, Pradeep Chhibber, Jorge Dominguez, Ronald Herring, Peter Hall, Devesh Kapur, Evan Lieberman, Elizabeth Perry, Susan Pharr, Dan Posner, Rachel Riedl, Hillel Soifer, Kathy Thelen, Lily Tsai, Maya Tudor, Ashutosh Varshney, Steven Wilkinson, Deborah Yashar, Daniel Ziblatt, Adam Ziegfeld, and three anonymous reviewers. I am grateful to Sonia Bhalotra and Rohini Somanathan for sharing their data. I thank Raymond Hicks, Tsering Wangyal Shawa, and Gyanesh Kudaisya for their help, respectively, with the data, GIS maps, and acquiring the rights to Shankar's cartoon; and Aditya Dasgupta, Jordan Sessler, and Tess Wise for research assistance. I am also grateful to feedback from presentations at Yale, Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and MIT, and at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Most importantly, I am deeply grateful to the staff of the National Archives of India and the Center for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram for their help. The research was made possible by a grant from the American Institute of Indian Studies. All errors are mine alone.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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