Over the last five years, the current government has significantly invested in extending India’s rural road network. Investment in infrastructure should, in theory, attract more votes but new research by Tanushree Goyal of Oxford University suggests that this may not be the case in India.

To examine the electoral response to road construction, Goyal uses granular road-level data from the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) launched in 2001 and results from elections between 1998 and 2017 in 14 large Indian states. As part of PMGSY, approximately 180,000 all-weather rural roads were constructed in India across 600,000 villages between 2001 and 2017 which she maps onto parliamentary and state assembly constituencies.

The researcher finds that road construction did not affect votes in both state or national elections. Even the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was behind the rural roads programme, did not gain electorally. The lack of electoral effect comes despite voters knowing about PMGSY and appreciating its benefits, said Goyal.

The scale of PMGSY makes the programme impossible to ignore, she added. Citizens report experiencing benefits, high awareness and daily usage of these roads, according to a citizen monitoring report compiled in 2011 by the Public Affairs Centre in Bengaluru, a not-for-profit research think tank on governance.

Goyal said that Indian citizens do not cast votes based on policy performance and this could explain why incumbency does not provide an electoral advantage in India.

In other countries, incumbents have a comparative advantage over the opposition because they can use their policies to signal competence more effectively. However, if citizens do not take performance into account, incumbency does not bring this comparative advantage, she argued.

Also Read: Do roads bring votes in rural India?


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