Why politics has nothing to do with economics in India

By Ruchir Sharma

India’s economy now seems to move like a vast oil slick on the global sea, far too broad, far too hard to grasp, to be contained or even shaped by any one leader sitting in Delhi

For two decades now, I have been leading a band of journalists on annual trips to follow state and national elections across India. Of all my global travels, I relish these journeys the most, as a way to explore the country I love, an added pleasure at election time when India truly comes alive. But what has become increasingly clear to me over time is that, at least from an economic standpoint, the outcome of the elections is irrelevant. Seventy years after Independence, India has changed in many ways, but is more or less the same in one: there is no connection between politics and economics.

In the last decade, it seemed for a while that a link was building between politics and economics, as the few high-profile state chief ministers who delivered strong growth were re-elected. The rate at which voters rejected the incumbent candidate dropped to a low of 50% last decade, compared to the average of 65% that had prevailed since multi-party democracy took root in the 1970s. In this decade, however, voters have switched back to their default mode of throwing out the incumbents, almost regardless of their economic performance.

There have been around 30 major state elections since 2010, and during this period the state chief minister once again faced a two-thirds probability of losing his or her re-election bid even if a state economy had grown faster than the national average. In fact, going back to 1981, when state GDP numbers first became available, records show that even if chief ministers delivered an annual economic growth rate faster than 8%, they faced a 58% chance of getting tossed out of office.


When Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power over three years ago, expectations were…

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