Political Selection

Politician Biography Project


Image credit: Meira Kumar (left) IndianExpress.com; Mayawati (right) drambedkarbooks.com

It is December 1985 and a Lok Sabha by-election is taking place in Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh, necessitated by the death of incumbent Chaudhuri Girdhari Lal. On one hand, you have Meira Kumar, daughter of veteran Congress leader Jagjivan Ram, who has quit the elite Indian Foreign Services and has been parachuted in to make her electoral debut in Uttar Pradesh, more than 800 kms away from her hometown in the neighbouring state of Bihar. Mounting a challenge to this “outsider” is Mayawati, daughter of a post office employee, who has been working at the grassroots building the organizational base of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for the past decade or so. (Interestingly, Mayawati is contesting as an ‘independent’ for the Election Commission hasn’t allotted the BSP a party symbol yet, even though the party was formed an year earlier). The result? Meira Kumar wins the election with 38 percent of the vote share and Mayawati finishes in third place, with just enough votes (18 percent) to avoid forfeiture of her deposit.

The case of Meira Kumar vs. Mayawati describes the main motivation of this research project: two politicians belonging to same caste group, same sex, same religion, contesting their first election around the same time but having very different political entry routes: one is hereditary and the other makes her way by climbing from below. This project asks two simple questions: (1) What are the entry routes of candidates who run for office and those who win elections? (2) What are the economic consequences of a political selection process where some candidates have a prior name-recognition advantage and others don’t, where some are anointed and others are promoted by rising up the ranks, where some are “parachuters” and others “climbers”?

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