Journal Articles

Economic Ideology in Indian Politics: Why Do Elite and Mass Politics Differ?

A long line of scholarship has argued that ideological division structures party politics in many parts of the world. In India, however, there is a long-held consensus that the parties do not sort themselves ideologically, especially regarding economic policymaking. The paper analyses National Election Studies data between 1996 and 2019 by Lokniti-CSDS, and shows that voters cluster around the centre-left position on economic issues. Nevertheless, there are discernible ideological differences among the party members. The Bhartiya Janata Party members are more likely to favour privatisation, and members of Left parties prefer labour rights. These ideological differences are also evident in our analysis of the manifestos of political parties since 1952 and an expert survey conducted in 2022. We argue that these elite differences in economic policy do not translate into mass politics because all political parties present the State as the solution to economic deprivation. The rise of welfare populism in Indian politics in the past two decades, we suggest, is a result of centralisation within political parties in which the welfare promises are directly linked to the party leaders.

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