Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Political Science, Vanderbilt University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Government, Cornell University
The Saffron Wave Meets the Silent Revolution: Poor People's Hindu Nationalism in India

Under what conditions will a conservative party representing elite interests be able to win the mass support required to succeed in democratic politics? This problem is especially salient in developing regions where because most citizens are poor, conservative parties face the difficult tasks of having to win over low income electorates without alienating their elite support base. In this project, I examine how the party of the Hindu elite in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has managed this political balancing act effectively. I challenge wisdom in both comparative party scholarship and South Asian studies, which suggest that vertical patron-client networks and religious nationalism have been the primary mechanisms for parties like the BJP to achieve such success with poor voters. Instead, I employ both statistical and qualitative methodologies to explore the party’s use of an innovative strategy based on linkages with civil society groups working in health and education provision to mobilize support among lower income Hindus. My research design exploits the tremendous variation in the social policy performances of Indian states to test the validity of my argument. My hypothesis expects the BJP to be most successful with poor voters where both the government and autonomous civil society groups have been most negligent in addressing their social needs, creating a void for the BJP and its organizational affiliates to fill. This argument helps problematize previous conceptualizations of civil society groups as distinct from the sphere of partisan politics. Further, both the strategies I argue the BJP employs, and the electoral success it enjoys, are paralleled by the experiences and tactics of political Islamic groups like Hamas. Thus, my project helps to highlight the empirical check the experiences of poor democracies offer to extending the conclusions of studies of industrialized European polities regarding the demise of socially active parties.