British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Political Cycles, Political Institutions and Public Expenditure in India, 1980–2000

Lawrence Sáez and Aseema Sinha*


In Western democracies it is held that parties and their positions affect how politicians choose to make public expenditure and investment. This article examines the public policy choices of politicians in India, a large well-established democracy with remarkable subnational variation. Public expenditure, from education and health to agriculture and irrigation, is analysed. Counterintuitive findings – that election timing and political factors play a strong role in the subnational states, and that party competition increases investment in education – are explained by highlighting the role economic and political uncertainty plays in politicians’ choices. Building a ‘Polanyi’ argument enhanced by a supply-side mechanism highlights the importance of compensation and insurance and the imperatives of political stability for subnational politicians, who attempt to maximize re-election chances in an uncertain environment.

(Online publication November 17 2009)


* Department of Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies (email:; Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison, respectively. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS), 2003, the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, 2003, and the Modern South Asia conference hosted by the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS), Lund, 2004. The authors would like to thank Deya Fileva, Gizem Gürson, and Alexandra Tudoroiu for invaluable research assistance, and also the Editor of the Journal, Albert Weale, for his extensive and useful comments. Special thanks also to Roli Asthana, John Echeverri-Gent, Santanu Gupta, Jude Hays, Mushtaq Khan, Melanie Manion and the Journal’s three anonymous referees for offering invaluable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this study. However, the authors take full responsibility for the interpretation and analysis of the data as it appears in this article.