Comparative Politics

Comparative Politics

The Politics of Dignity: How Status Inequality shaped Redistributive Politics in India

Poulomi Chakrabarti Queen's University
Abstract
Conventional theories of the welfare state are premised on the interests of social classes – the wealthy elite oppose redistribution, while the working class supports expansive social rights. I argue that in multiethnic societies with long histories of discrimination, ethnic groups are motivated by concerns of enhancing their material well-being as well as their social status. Political elites from dominant groups are more likely to oppose redistributive policies, but unlike the working class, the policy preference of marginal groups is mediated by the level of status inequality. Under conditions of high inequality, concerns of dignity find precedence over pure redistribute policies. The politics of dignity is most concretely manifested through demands for symbolic and descriptive representation. I demonstrate this in the context of India by examining the caste identity of legislators, patterns in public spending and historical accounts of demands by lower caste mobilizations in major states over five decades.
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