Concentric Clientelism: A Case Study of Rural Saharanpur

Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
DOI10.1177/2321023018797482
Article
Concentric Clientelism:
A Case Study of
Rural Saharanpur
Rajkamal Singh1
Rahul Hemrajani2
Abstract
In this article, we examine the role of intermediaries in sustaining political clientelism in rural Saharanpur,
Uttar Pradesh. Drawing from fieldwork and electoral data, we show that clientelism in Saharanpur
is based around providing three specific guarantees to the voter—security from or by the police,
facilitation in the tehsil and mediation in cases that would otherwise go to court—which we collectively
refer to as guardianship. We explain how guardianship, more than most other forms of clientelistic
exchange, requires intermediaries. In the case of Saharanpur, these intermediaries are usually individuals
occupying formal positions of power within various circles of Panchayati Raj Institutions. Finally, we
argue that it is the concentric nature of constituencies provided by the decentralized political structure
which is ultimately responsible for the sustenance of intermediary networks as well as the perpetuation
of clientelism in rural Saharanpur.
Keywords
Clientelism, patronage, vote buying, brokers, intermediaries
Introduction
Kitschelt and Wilkinson define political clientelism as ‘the direct exchange of a citizen’s vote in return for
direct payments or continuing access to employment, goods, and services’ (emphasis added) (Kitschelt &
Wilkinson, 2007, p. 14). The direct interaction between the citizen and politician constitutes, for many early
scholars of clientelism, an essential element of clientelistic relationships (Hicken, 2011, p. 290). For Lande,
direct ‘connotes personal attachment’ rather than indirect attachment due to interconnected offices or group
membership (Lande, Schmidt, Guasti, & Scott, 1977). Similarly, Scott claims that clientelism is ‘dyadic’;
Studies in Indian Politics
6(2) 247–266
© 2018 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/2321023018797482
http://journals.sagepub.com/home/inp
1 PhD Student, Department of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA.
2 Assistant Professor, Tamil Nadu National Law University, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India.
Corresponding author:
Rajkamal Singh, PhD Student, Department of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.
E-mail: rajkamalsingh23@gmail.com
248 Studies in Indian Politics 6(2)
it is distinguished by ‘the face-to-face, personal quality of the relationship’ (Scott, 1972, p. 94). In the
political context, dyadism is essential because a politician transacts with individuals rather than groups to
create ‘a personal obligation of clientship’ (Stokes, 2007, p. 608).
Recent studies have, however, questioned the face-to-face nature of clientelistic relationships (Hicken,
2011, p. 291). In modern democracies, where constituencies are large and diverse, it is difficult for
politicians to sustain direct clientelistic relationships with voters (Scott, 1972, p. 95). The first problem
is information (Hicken, 2007, p. 293). A politician cannot know the preferences and motivations of
several thousand voters. Some may want money, others public sector jobs, infrastructure or caste-based
reservations. The second problem is accountability (Stokes, 2007, p. 611). Both politicians and voters
are too far apart to ensure contractual compliance. Without direct interaction, neither can individual
voters ensure that they will receive promised benefits nor can the politician ensure that voters will
actually cast a vote in their favour.
To solve these problems, studies of clientelism have stressed the role of intermediaries who help
mediate between politicians and voters. In large democracies, politicians are connected to voters ‘through
a chain of broker relationships’ (Hicken, 2007, p. 291), which creates a patron–broker–client network
‘from the summits of national politics down to the municipal level’ (Hicken, 2007, p. 291). The lowest
levels of this hierarchical network engage directly with the voter. They gather voter preferences and
solve the problem of information by passing it through to the upper tiers. This proximity also ensures that
voters and intermediaries can monitor each other and maintain accountability.
The existence of intermediaries poses another problem to the politicians—organization. As Kitschelt
and Wilkinson put it:
Politicians need to organize the ow of material resources across the complex pyramidal network of client-
broker-patron exchanges … they must overcome challenging problems of collective action and principal–agent
conicts through nely balanced systems of incentives. (Kitschelt & Wilkinson, 2007, pp. 8–9)
As with all hierarchical networks, politicians must guard against leakages, laxity and defections among
the lower ranks. Lower-level brokers may defect to another politician, divert some of the goods they are
meant to distribute or simply expect benefits without doing any work (Kitschelt & Wilkinson, 2007,
pp. 8–9). A politician cannot afford alienating voters due to these organizational problems. Thus, to
sustain productive clientelistic networks, politicians must ensure that intermediary networks are stable
and efficient.
While many scholars have recognized this need for productive intermediary networks, few have
discussed how the intermediaries in these networks operate (Hicken, 2007, p. 291). Ethnographic work
on clientelism in India—despite highlighting the importance of intermediaries in Indian politics—rarely
elaborates on the logistics of intermediary networks.3 Who are appointed as intermediaries? What
motivates them to work as intermediaries? What keeps the intermediary networks stable and efficient?
In this article, we examine these questions in the context of rural Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP). First,
we show that clientelism in Saharanpur is based around providing three specific guarantees to the voter—
security from or by the police, facilitation in the tehsil and mediation in cases that would otherwise go to
court—which we collectively refer to as guardianship. We explain how guardianship, more than most other
forms of clientelistic exchange, requires intermediaries. Second, we argue that the decentralized political
structure resulting from the Seventy-third Constitutional Amendment provides a conducive base for
intermediary networks. The concentric structure of electoral constituencies mandated by the amendment
3 For notable exceptions refer to Oldenburg (1987), Auerbach (2016), Krishna (2007), Manor (2000) and Berenschot (2014).

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