How do people in India participate politically, as citizens, clients and/or subjects?1 This query appears in various forms in ongoing debates concerning the extent and nature of civil society, the pitfalls of patronage democracy, and the role of illegality in political practice, to name a few of the several concerns about political spheres in India. A focus for discussion has been the relationship of civil society institutions (with associated principles of equality and fairness) to political spheres driven mainly by political parties and to what Partha Chatterjee designated as ‘political society’.2 Since 2005, with the publication of the monograph, Seeing the State: Governance and Governmentality in India (Corbridge et al.), there is growing support for the argument that political cultures and practices in India, from place to place and time to time, to greater and lesser degrees, include notions of citizens’ rights and absolute principles of fairness.3 Corbridge et al. summarized the issue as follows, ‘The distinction . . . between political society, on the one hand, and civil society on the other, can more reasonably be thought of as a set of interlocking political practices that are arranged along a continuum.’4

Seeing the State contains wide-ranging discussions where the authors base their research on the encounters of villagers with state agencies in five localities in northeastern India. With their framing of issues and approaches and their emphasis on field research, Corbridge et al. set high standards for scholarship on politics and the political in India. Missing from the study, however, are villagers’ sightings of politicians and their understandings of the role of elected leaders in the achievement of welfare and development. The personal discretion of village, state, and nationally elected officials plays a major role in the distribution of state resources in India. All the more significant in the study of the political is the knowledge of voters’ views of those with discretionary power. This chapter explores the aforementioned through the presentation and analysis of interviews in a village in western Andhra Pradesh. Informants’ comments include rich composites of ideas and values that illustrate the existence of citizenship amidst clientage and subjecthood in this part of rural India. We find two models for understanding leadership, articulated in the responses given by the 26 informants to the questions developed by Pamela Price and posed in the field by Dusi Srinivas.5 One model, we call patrimonial-democratic and the other, programmatic-democratic.

Patrimonial Wieldings of Power

Discussions about patrimonialism usually refer to styles of governance and the structure of state administration, whether the author is talking about pre-modern or modern state formation. Weber used the term patrimonialism in his analysis of pre-modern kingdoms in Europe. Anthropologists of sub-Saharan Africa have applied the model in discussing the nature of post-colonial African states.6 Steven Blake greatly expanded historians’ understanding of the structure of the Mughal Empire in pre-colonial India by pointing to both patrimonial and bureaucratic elements in the state.7

In patrimonial governance, generally, the person of the ruler, not his office, is the focus of the attention of his officers and other subjects. His relationship with them is personalized and not subject to abstract issues of universal regulation and merit. Separation between public and private domains does not exist, and the authority of the ruler is described in terms of paternal benevolence. The ruler is the chief distributor, and he maintains his authority in part through the socially appropriate distribution of largesse and surpluses in production. He is the lord who protects his subjects by his generosity, as well as by the use of force.

In 1989, Price outlined features of a patrimonial style of leadership in the Indian politics.8 She argued that populist distribution, with a focus on the person of the political leader instead of policies, and the association of authority with persons and not institutions were among the characteristics of kingly models in Indian politics.9 The article contained observations from Price’s research, as well as references to anthropological and historical studies of political behaviour and political relations in modern India. Price found the reproduction of kingly patterns of behaviour to lie in relations of clientage in agrarian production and in monarchical traditions of rule that had survived British imperial conquest. Popular worship in temples and shrines assisted in reproducing conceptualizations of lordly and personalized authority. In popular Hinduism, a god or goddess appears as the ruler of the cosmos who is honoured and worshipped. Divine discretion decides one’s fate as a subject worshipper.

Later, Price found that ideologies of authority and duty in traditional kinship systems can also nurture patrimonial values and models.10 The reproduction of families and wider kin group as micro-political domains finds strength in ideologies of the personalized authority of the head of the family to whom honour should be shown.11 Patrimonial conceptions, even as they change, have persisted in part because of the relatively slow rate of change in rural societies. They have also been supported by the nature of the distribution of resources of the state, a point which is discussed later in the essay.

More than 25 years have passed since Price’s article on kingly models appeared and much has changed in Indian politics, including the deepening of democracy and a focus on development in the rhetoric of political parties. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, to greater or lesser degrees, constituents are demanding more from the state. With an intensity that varies from state to state, politicians and bureaucrats are under pressure to supply both welfare and development.12 Nevertheless, as we will illustrate, some patrimonial attitudes, which formed the basis of the kingly model, continue to exist. Thus, we use the term patrimonial-democratic when discussing the nature of patrimonial conceptions among the major portion of our informants. The programmatic model suggests the existence of alternative, general conceptions of the nature of political transactions among some of the informants.

General Motivations for Voting

Most of our informants, representing a wide range in terms of caste identity, political engagement and economic condition, voted with two main motivations.13 One, was the notion that if one did not vote, one would be struck off the voters’ list as deceased. For many of our informants this conviction appeared to have morphed into two related conceptions, namely, (i) one’s vote was one’s civic identity, and (ii) if one did not vote, one was ‘dead’ to the village. Being on the voters’ list established one’s general rights to benefits that the state offered, affecting the terms of one’s existence.14 Even villagers who held strong patrimonial views, as we show in this chapter, had a conception of rights to state resources, associating the appearance of their names on the voters’ list with these rights.

Concerning the second motivation, most informants said they voted with the hope that their vote would help bring to office a leader who would do something for them and/or the village. We do not mean to imply by this observation that informants expected change for the better. An elderly Muslim man indicated the limitations of that hope for him. He said, ‘I vote with the hope that at least the other man would do something good—only with hope.’ Then he went on to observe that in elections farmers were like insects that get attracted to a street lamp, ‘[they] get attracted for its redness, thinking that it’s edible, come near and die’.

Several stated that electoral politics had brought change to the village, namely that parties would promise to do better than the previous regime and might carry out some campaign promises for fear of not being re-elected. A prosperous young Forward Caste (FC) farmer observed, ‘People are more conscious now, so the leaders have to do something for people these days. They just can’t go away without doing anything as they were doing earlier. They can’t survive for long if they do like that.’ Still, most informants did not trust politicians to be reliable. There was not widespread confidence that politicians would or could carry out their campaign promises.

We were inquiring in 2007 mainly about the Assembly elections of 2004, which the Congress party won under the leadership of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (1949–2009), in alliance with three other parties.15 The Congress-led alliance ran against a two-party alliance led by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which had been in power for two consecutive electoral periods.16 Some informants said that they had believed in the promises that Congress politicians made during the 2004 campaign. This belief may have been a factor in the hope that they experienced. A larger number of informants, however, said that they did not believe campaign promises, but they still voted with the hope that a good and honest leader would be elected.17

Perceptions of Leadership Failure

Why should voter ‘hopes’ be salient? These hopes are in strong contrast to the low expectations of betterment that the informants articulated, their conviction that few, if not almost none, of the leaders were willing to ‘work’ for them. The conception that leaders were ‘selfish’ and corrupt was often expressed, and the two characteristics were commonly associated in the minds of informants. They said that because most leaders were selfish, they ‘ate’ funds instead of distributing them further to the villagers. The literate wife of a FC medium landholder observed, ‘Only one among hundred is honest nowadays. Even if there is an honest leader, once he gets an office, he’ll change’. A particularly sharp critic, a college-educated Scheduled Caste (SC) smallholder, was more graphic. Change, he said, ‘will come only after the ruling class has its stomach full. Until then [politicians and government officials] will work for their own welfare’.

This is not to say that there were no informants with nuanced statements about the perceived limitations in government assistance and lack of cooperation from elected representatives. An elderly SC smallholder was sardonic about the attitudes among villagers in his comments on Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

After winning, a leader may do something if he is good. Suppose for example an MLA would have around 200 or 300 villages under his constituency. Can he give benefits to all these villages equally? Who’ll do it? At the most, he’ll do something for ten people in one village and ten people in another village. So these people call him ‘good’, whereas the rest call him as ‘bad’.

Some informants said that village presidents and MLAs could be hindered in doing good work for villagers because of the limitations of funds from the state government. And a small minority said that the chief ministers had to face the challenges of securing funds for the state from the central government. However, even those informants who commented that MLAs might be hampered by lack of funds also added that MLAs in general, besides being corrupt, were not interested in exerting themselves to help villagers. These elected representatives did not ‘bother’. A prosperous young FC landholder, the village president in 2007, gave an unusually comprehensive response when asked why an MLA may choose not to assist a constituent or a village:

There may be a funds problem. Sometimes he may have funds. Some MLAs are active and can manage funds and resources and do some work. But all MLAs may not be equally active. Some may be dull. So he can’t get more funds. So he may be incompetent or he may think that [he] wanted to serve one term as MLA and that ‘I’m not bothered about the next term, so let me make as much money as possible these five years’.

In the following sections, we explore meanings of the hope of voters in casting their ballots, and thereby come to some understanding of the vibrancy in electoral democracy in parts of rural India.

Patrimonial-democratic Conceptions

The responses of informants revealed particular lifeworlds, the most common of which were infused with patrimonial elements to variant degrees. The frequency of patrimonial views, values or sentiments differed from being highly involved in an interview to being non-existent. We chose to designate responses as patrimonial-democratic, because of the role of elections in enabling a shift of patrons, enabling voters’ hopes for better persons as patrons.

Beginning in the 1980s, the nature of clientage altered radically in Balapalle. The expansion of education and opportunities for landholding, changes in agricultural technology, and developments in electoral politics in the state resulted in a greater sense of personal autonomy among the villagers.18 Village leadership was relatively fluid, subject to elections, and relations of subordination were less personal than they were under the previous regime of village lords, major landholders from FC families.

Under the previous regime, one’s relationship with one’s patron tended to be lifelong. Informants used the term bhayam-bhakti (fear-and-devotion) to describe the general nature of the attachment.19 One feared displeasing a person with superior power and influence, a Big Man, because one’s dependency was acute. However, mutual loyalty and personal assistance could exist between a Big Person and a subordinate, which accounted for the informants’ use of the term bhakti in characterizing these ties.20 An old SC man, a smallholder who had experienced hardship when he was landless under the old regime, expressed enthusiasm for the possibilities that existed in 2007, in these words:

Earlier we didn’t have a role in government because of kings’ rule, zamindars, etc. But now you can determine which government do you want. You have the power of the vote. [Democracy] means power is with everybody. It’s not with you, not with me.

If there is a house, all the four people living in the house would have power. Democracy means [a government] that takes care of everybody.

Under conditions of greater personal autonomy in Balapalle, what does our use of the term patrimonial-democratic convey? It suggests an informant’s relationship with an elected representative which was personal and not subject to governmental regulation. Transactions in this political universe were subject to personal discretion on the part of the leader. The elected representative did a favour in responding to a request, and the system of personalized transactions extended even to the office of Chief Minister. One SC small landowner said, in response to a question about qualities a CM should have, ‘All MLAs come together and elect a CM. So they elect only that person who can do favours for them as CM’.

Even if one was no longer subject to lifelong domination by a village lord, in these lifeworlds, sustaining existence or experiencing positive change was very much dependent on the personal willingness of those with power and authority to help a person or a village. Powerful and influential persons, not institutions and rules, made the difference in one’s welfare. An elderly Backward Caste (BC) farmer was of the opinion that, ‘If [a leader] has the will to develop the village, he will do it.’

A ‘good’ leader in this model was one who was not selfish, but one who bothered to stretch himself to help others, distributing resources when material needs were at issue. All was dependent on the leader’s personal character. Leaders did not do the correct thing; they did ‘good’ things or were ‘bad’ and chose not to help. This statement from a Muslim smallholder represents a common patrimonial-democratic view of a good leader:

[A leader] should not be selfish. Even if you [a leader] are selfish, use one or two per cent for your sake and do the rest for people. He should come forward and help people. He should be able to donate, even without taking for himself. . . . [He] should tell what is good and bad. If there is a crisis, he should be near you/support you . . .

This man gave a similar response when asked the meaning of democracy:

All of us come together and elect a person. If he takes care of us, then it is a democracy. If he listens to us and solves our problems, then he is regarded as a leader in a democracy and we will be his people. If he does not listen to us, then we can re-elect somebody. We have that power.

A BC farmer came with a similar statement. A leader first and foremost ‘. . . should think, “all are my people”. He shouldn’t have any bias. He should have a helping nature. He should feed his people first, even if he is hungry’. An elderly Muslim echoed the same sentiment: A leader ‘. . . should have love for people, concern for the country. He should feed people even though he himself is hungry. You should help the people around you.’

One of the persons whose notions were the most patrimonial-democratic, the former SC caste leader, said the following about deciding for whom to vote:

I’ll see a person with good character, virtues and vote for him. I’ll see whether he’ll be able to do our work, whether he is a good man. . . . If I’m in a crisis, or if I have a problem, and I go and tell him, then he should immediately respond to it. He should go and speak to the parties concerned with the crisis and solve it. I would see whether he stood by his word and solved the crisis or not. He should stand by his word, when I’m ready to give my life for his sake, he should also be ready to give up his life for my cause.

While some of the patrimonial elements in informants’ responses were understated, others were clearly articulated. There was some reference to rulers as kings, suggesting informants’ experience of being subjects under the patronage of personal rulers. An SC smallholder gave the following characterization of the electoral system:

It is no more kings’ rule. It is rule of the vote. But in reality they won’t work for people. Though they should serve people, they go and live somewhere after winning. They are like kings. In every five years, they change places between themselves. They earn for themselves.

When asked what a people’s government should be, this informant added that, ‘It is a government which functions for the welfare of the people. But such a government is neither there nor will it come in the future. If a leader spends Rs. 10 for people, he says he spent Rs. 100’. Several informants talked about the constituents of the leader as being his ‘children’. However, the former BC woman village president did so in a nuanced fashion:

A mother cannot look after both her kids equally, cannot treat them equally. Though one says that all children are equally pampered in a family of four children, someone will get neglected. There will be 150 villages to look after and how can an MLA look after all of them in all these villages equally? The difference in treatment is bound to happen.

The preferred character of a chief minister was dramatically outlined in patrimonial terms by the former SC caste leader:

First [a Chief Minister] should love the people of the state after his victory, after making his party win the elections. He should take care of his party members, he should have extreme patience, because somebody would be abusing him, somebody praises, the other comes up and falls on his feet for help, and so forth. He should bear all these and yet treat all of them equally, with great patience, only then he’ll be a big man. Otherwise, he can’t be, even if he distributes gold the size of the hillock, he cannot be [a big man]. . . . Anybody, be it a CM or MLA or whatever, if you want to be a pedda manishi [a big person], then you need to be like that.

Out of the 26 informants, the responses of seven men lacked patrimonial elements. These we call programmatic, as discussed later. The other 19 ranged in attitudes from highly patrimonial-democratic to somewhat patrimonial-democratic. The latter also expressed programmatic views to a greater or lesser extent.

Programmatic-democratic Conceptions

The seven programmatic-democratic informants put emphasis on systems and impersonal patterns in the way they talked about politics, voting and development. Four were FCs, one was a BC, and two were SCs. One of the FCs and the two SCs had graduated from college with Bachelor degrees, while the BC had a Master degree in history. The remaining three FCs were literate. As discussed later, literacy is one of the variables to consider in deciding why these informants’ lifeworlds differed substantially from that of the others. The SCs were in their thirties and married, while the BC was in his twenties and unmarried. The FCs ranged from middle-aged to elderly.

These men tended to talk about processes and policies, without focusing on politicians’ personal character, which tended to dominate the other 19 informants’ statements. The comments of these seven suggest that they blamed systems to have succeeded or failed, rather than impugn the weight of change and welfare on particular persons. The seven talked about wider economic conditions and developmental concerns, going beyond their own particular situations. Even though they were preoccupied with development in Balapalle, they easily talked about the needs of the district and beyond.

An example of the type of thinking of this group comes from one of the SCs, who was commenting on what he saw as the overall failure of the policy of so-called ‘free electricity’, which had helped bring the Congress party to power in 2004:21

If we pay more, then we will have the right to question the authorities, we will have accountability. Now if I ask an official as to why electricity is frequently going off, he says, ‘I don’t know. Anyhow, you are not paying for it. You are getting it for free’. They are selling it to some industries by not supplying to farmers. But we can’t make demands on these officials now. Anything that is free is wrong. . . . [The government] should charge money so that we will have a right to ask.

A smallholder farmer himself, he argued that if the government increased the Minimum Support Price of paddy, the price of rice would go up for ordinary people. The government, instead, could support farmers by subsidizing input costs for cultivation. The informant argued with reference to process and policy, not persons.

To greater or lesser degrees, five of the programmatic-democratic informants said that elections had brought change to the village. The clearest statement of this view came from an SC who had been a TDP activist. He said:

Change will surely come through elections, because through elections the governments would be changing. The government that comes to power by defeating the earlier government, its leaders would, after coming to power think that they have to do more good to people than the previous government and hence, strive more for their development. So people will also benefit, so change comes. . . . Congress has brought out some populist measures, as they had to take power back from the TDP.

The other SC did not see much change in the village, in that he found that poor villagers were still very poor. He argued that change could come from elections only when the mass of voters were educated and their consciousness accordingly raised. Otherwise, he argued, some villagers were undermining the value of their vote by accepting bribes from candidates and their party workers. He avers that ‘First the voter should get awareness; only then will some benefits come out of elections. If you take money [for] voting, what would the leader do after winning? He recovers the money back from you. So corruption begins from the voter. So the leader follows the same way.’ An elderly FC, who had been part of the pre-1980s old regime in the village, shared a similar view, although phrased differently:

Change is very difficult through the process of elections. Change will come only when the people change—[when] their thinking, consciousness, grows. The people should think that, ‘I will not be attracted to [candidates’] evil practices,’ and they should be firmly resolved not to accept any bribes from politicians. They should be honest and think that the vote that they are exercising is for the sake of the country. . . . Only then will some change come through elections.

All of the programmatic-democratic informants responded when they were asked about the problems a chief minister faces. This was in contrast to the patrimonial-democratic informants, most of whom had some difficulty in thinking beyond the MLA level to the responsibilities of chief ministers. A prosperous, programmatic FC gave a response that echoed a common observation about chief ministers:

He should get more funds from the central government, and he should be able to distribute them equally to all people as far as possible. This is the biggest challenge. If you ask Rs. 1,000 for the Minimum Support Price for rice and the Prime Minister . . . does not agree, what can the Chief Minister do? If he gives more promises, he will have a tough time in getting funds from the centre for all of them. . . . So he should be able to manage things with the money available. The public would be asking. MLAs would be asking him.

The response from the young BC man stood out on the topic of problems facing a chief minister. He chose not to focus on the office of chief minister when talking about governance and change. He adds:

The fundamental problem before him is how to make the state more developed. In reality the state is ruled by the administrators. They will have more knowledge and only with their support can political leaders function. A good CM is a person who can make the officials work well. Although they make promises in the elections, the leaders have to listen to what officials say, whether a policy is feasible or not.

Some of the seven expressed frustration with what they perceived as low morality in politics. Earlier, we quoted the former old regime FC’s reference to candidates’ ‘evil practices’. It was not only the distribution of alcohol, money, and food during election time that perturbed him, but what he characterized as the lack of a sense of duty among both politicians and their constituents. According to him, ‘Everybody has only one motive, to eat the government’s money. . . . Everybody is trying to exploit as much as he can of the other. Probably very few people have [a] sense of duty.’ One of the programmatic SCs phrased his disillusionment thus, ‘It is all selfishness. Nothing else. There is no gain for people. . . .There are no true elections, actually. It is all corruption. A person who has money would be a politician’. As we wrote earlier, this informant argued that change would come when the masses were educated. When Srinivas asked, however, if he voted, he said, ‘Yes, but out of compulsion. Even if you refrain from voting, the process would not stop. It goes on. Whether it is good or bad. Two fools would be fighting, and we need to vote for a person who is less of a fool than the other. That is [the] compulsion.’

Some Sources of Programmatic Thinking

What characteristic or characteristics do the programmatic seven share, which can explain their difference from other informants in their approach to thinking about elections and governance? These men were not among the group that was selected through formal random procedures. Of the seven, three are included because of their present or past importance in village governance and politics, and the others are the result of chance encounters in the village.

Regarding the seven, we have noted that they came from different castes and that they belong to different age groups. They also represent a wide socio-economic stratum in terms of the size of landholdings and wealth, with the four FCs being prosperous, the SCs being smallholders and the BC coming from a family with a small business. In terms of party preferences, two of the FCs were Congress partisans with an important engagement in local and mandal Congress party politics, while the other FCs were not active in their attachment to Congress. The BC identified himself as having voted for the Congress in the Assembly elections of 2004. One SC, as quoted earlier, said that he voted but did not give evidence of a preference among parties, expressing bitterness about the failure of electoral politics to bring substantial change. The other SC supported the TDP and was a faction follower of the TDP leader in the village. Party preference, then, does not offer any insights into their choice of approach. It is striking that four of the seven, the very prosperous FC, the two SCs, and the BC had Bachelor degrees, with the BC also having a Master’s degree in history. In contrast, none of the patrimonially oriented group had gone beyond high school; some had only a few years of schooling, and some were illiterate.

What about the financial security of the seven? We can surmise that the four FCs, all of whom were prosperous in village terms, experienced less dependence for their welfare on the services of the village president and the MLA because of their superior financial resources, their wider knowledge of the world beyond the village, and perhaps, their networks of connection. Thus, their comments reflected their greater effectiveness in reaching their objectives and lesser vulnerability to the vagaries of politicians’ commitments. Furthermore, because of these FCs’ superior resources, elected representatives may have been relatively accommodating to their wishes. The BC, on the other hand, was unemployed at the time of the interview. One of the SCs was working irregularly as a local reporter for a Telugu newspaper, hoping for more substantial employment, while the other SC was supporting five members of his family (including two children) with some difficulty.

The relative prosperity of the four FCs could have played a role in the forming of an approach to governance that looked beyond the personal character of elected representatives; however, there were two prosperous farmers in the patrimonial-democratic group who did not engage in the same type of analysis. It is reasonable to assume, however, that freedom from marked scarcity can play a role in expanding the range of models from which a person chooses to explain his or her world.

In the case of the other three much poorer informants, their experience of higher education must be considered as a major influence in providing wider knowledge of society and styles of argumentation. There was no college in the village, though it contained one of the largest high schools in the district. So these informants, as well as the college-educated FC, had spent several years of their youth away from their families and the village, gaining a broader outlook and experience.

Patrimonial Conceptions and Political Economy

About the presence of patrimonial elements, to greater and lesser degrees, among the nineteen other informants, except for the prosperous farmers from this group (mentioned in the previous section), responses from informants suggested some desperation in reaching their goals of well-being. No one spoke of scarcity of food, but in various ways, they expressed financial insecurity. The village is in a semi-arid zone, with agriculture dependent on rainfall and borewells, amidst falling groundwater levels. The failure of successive governments, after years of promises, to supply water for irrigation was bitterly criticized. In recent years, drinking water from groundwater supplies had become polluted with fluoride, and villagers eagerly awaited water supply through pipes from the Krishna River. The Congress Chief Minister visited the area shortly after the election of 2004 and promised the supply of good drinking water in six months. Now, three years later, some informants thought that in another six months the project would be finished, while others were not so confident.

In thinking about the reproduction of patrimonial concepts among informants, we need to consider the dynamics of politician-constituent relations in the state of Andhra Pradesh, as elsewhere in India. At the beginning of this essay, we referred to ‘patronage democracy’. In a study of Indian state politics published in 2004, Kanchan Chandra used this term to illustrate the importance of welfare projects and specific acts of assistance on the part of politicians in securing support for political parties.22 Sanjib Baruah’s comments on the implications of Chandra’s study are pertinent:

Individual politicians are more important in patronage politics than the political party or party ideology, because groups of supporters are beholden to them. A collective allocation of resources through policy might be credited to a party or its leadership, but credit for goods delivered through patronage goes to individual politicians.23

We can also take into consideration the fact that a common way for a man to acquire influence as he builds a career in politics is to take on the role of a ‘fixer’, one who assists ordinary people in their dealings with state administration or with other problems requiring the mediation of a person with authority.24

The personalized distribution of state resources and services was accepted as legitimate by those rural folk whose notions of authority were informed by patrimonial models. The main complaint was that politicians were not better persons due to their moral character. As noted earlier, this is not to say that among the nineteen whose statements were predominantly patrimonial, there were no programmatic exceptions. Patrimonial notions dominated the comments of one young BC farmer, but he also noted that MLAs were faced with pressure from local leaders in villages and mandals for ‘funds, works to their village. They may be asking for houses, roads, etc. So he should deal with them carefully’. He added that a chief minister had to distribute resources among the MLAs and appease the rival factions within his party. There was a sense among some informants that the palpable scarcity of resources for distribution played a role in supporting imbalances and inequities in distribution, and that structural features affected failures of governance. The nature of political economy, as well as political culture, informed the reproduction of patrimonial models.

Intensities of Patrimonial Emphasis in Political Conceptions

At the risk of being speciously precise, we point out that there were eleven persons among the informants whom we found to be ‘somewhat’ patrimonial-democratic. Two informants were ‘highly’ patrimonial-democratic and six articulated attitudes that we found to be in the middle ground, between that of the other two groups. An example of an informant in the ‘somewhat’ group is a former village president, an illiterate BC woman, Yadamma.25 She argued for the importance of elections in bringing political change in Balapalle. Through elections, the founder of the TDP (her affiliated party) came to power as the chief minister and he, in turn, gave the backward classes new opportunities in village politics through reservations for low caste men and women. Twice, SC men became village presidents under the TDP system of reservations in village government elections.

When the SC candidates won and became sarpanch (president), all the low castes got political consciousness. Till then, the lower castes or SCs were afraid to talk to a sarpanch, meet him or go to his house. But now they came to think that ‘one of us has become sarpanch’ and hence, gained confidence, strength, and consciousness. They came to know the power of voting and elections. From then, there is [a] rise of consciousness.

Yadamma did not speak in terms of moral indignation when talking about the opposing party and its politicians. She had a pragmatic attitude and spoke well of the Congress MLA from that constituency.26 In speaking of him, however, she showed conviction of the overwhelming significance of a politician’s moral character in the achievement of effective governance. She said that, ‘Even in the present Congress government, our MLA X is a good man, but still not much is going on on the lift irrigation front. Even if one person is good out of a gang of ten members, what can he do alone?’ From her point of view, elections were important because they could give good people a chance to come into politics to help others.

Her husband, Gowni, gave evidence of stronger patrimonial sentiments.27 Gowni and Yadamma had shared the duties of village president. She had been elected through a reservation provision for BC women. Her husband, however, was the undisputed TDP leader in Balapalle and spoke throughout the interview of the time when he was sarpanch (without reference to his wife). Those informants who chose to talk about Gowni’s (and Yadamma’s) period as village president said that they had been responsible in carrying out their duties. The general opinion was that they had kept their embezzlement within reasonable boundaries. Gowni was more clearly partisan than his wife in his views of the past and present governments of the state. The TDP had good policies and programmes, and the good leaders were TDP men,

Srinivas: What are villagers and officers in Balapalle doing in the [Congress-initiated] National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme?28

Gowni: No idea. I have no idea. Nothing is happening. It is because of lack of good, able leadership. If the leader is not good, then officers won’t work. If officers are good, then scheme will be good. In the [state] Congress government, government officers are not working well. There is a lot of corruption in houses, pensions, etc.

For Gowni, however, effective leadership required more than moral intent. On the village level, ‘If a leader [is] to grow, then he should participate in all social activities. He should be always available to the people. . . . He should try to solve if there are any quarrels in the village. He should be with people and also he should have some money.’ To the question: What qualities should a chief minister have? He answered:

He should have the capacity to run the party. He should have good leadership skills. For example, [TDP leader and former Chief Minister, 1995–2004] Chandrababu came as the son-in-law of [TDP founder] NTR into the party, [and] he is running the party and has proven to be a good administrator. Then [a Chief Minister] should have money, leaders to support him, etc.

Gowni’s view of how change in political relations had come to the village was similar to that of his wife, except that he was more enthusiastic in stating the role of his political party: ‘From the time that NTR formed the TDP government, the small and lower caste groups could know their power and gained some political consciousness. They could know what politics is. All this happened because of NTR and the coming of the TDP government to power in the 1983 elections.’

Yadamma and Gowni had experience in politics in and beyond Balapalle and contacts with the district administration and in the state TDP. Even though they had sold some acres of land to fund their political activities, it appears that at the time of the 2007 interviews, they still retained some land for farming. Their expressions of political understanding are in marked contrast to those of the two informants we rank as being highly patrimonial. One was the former SC head, quoted several times earlier in this chapter. The other person was an SC woman who was married to one of the former SC village presidents. She said that the family was landless, and her two sons and daughter were working as labourers, even though they had completed, respectively, twelve and ten years of schooling. She said that her house was in poor condition and added that the ‘The government should give some loans or some employment for my children or some agricultural land. Then we’ll be happy.’ Srinivas asked her about the qualities she looked for in a leader, she replied that, ‘He should be a good person; he should be able to help us in time of need, when we are in trouble’. A while later she said further, ‘. . . he should do good work in the village. He should have a zeal to develop the village and like that.’ On the topic of elections and change in the village, the informant said that every government ‘tried to do something’, except that now, the Congress village leadership was distributing village benefits only to its supporters.29


Sudipta Kaviraj has written about the ways in which ‘existing understandings and comportments of power’ can affect the functioning of institutions.30 He wrote with reference to concepts of Hans Georg Gadamer, in particular, the notion of the ‘effective historical’, describing how initial conditions in a society can affect the evolution of institutions. While initial cultural conditions affect directions in ‘path dependency’, contemporary and contingent conditions influence the rate of change. In the decades following Independence, the ‘Hindu rate of economic growth’ in much of agrarian India contributed to slow changes in relationships of power.31 Anthropological studies of rural society in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s portrayed attitudes of subjecthood on the part of low caste people toward higher caste patrons and village leaders.32 However, as Marguerite Robinson illustrated in her study of village politics in semi-arid Andhra Pradesh, by the mid-1980s, the results of, inter alia, new agricultural technologies, improved transportation, access to media and expanded opportunities for education found political expression in a new daring and sense of agency among some BC and SC people.33 Our research in Balapalle in the 2000s, in the same part of the state where Robinson carried out her study, gives evidence of a much greater and self-conscious expression of independence than what existed in Robinson’s Mallannapalle.34 The responses of, especially, the programmatic-democratic and slightly patrimonial-democratic informants suggest a desire to understand the functioning of the government and state administration that extended beyond the focus on good moral character and personal generosity. Remaining patrimonial conceptions contributed to nurturing the hope that good persons might be elected to produce better governance.

Balapalle informants mixed notions of rights protected by the state with conceptions of leadership which, for some, implied their status as subjects of elected leaders. Others, who articulated programmatic ideas but who were poor, were citizen-clients. Citizenship, clientage and subjecthood prove here to be fluid identities, with one not necessarily excluding experience of the other.


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