By Vijay Rao
Contributing Writer

Abstract: This paper focuses on the electoral politics of West Bengal, examining how the Communist Party of India, Marxist, has managed to maintain power in the State Legislative Assembly for over 30 years amid reports of poverty, economic stagnation, and voter discontent. I first examine democracy in India as a whole, then focus on the state of West Bengal to analyze India’s democracy on successive levels. Through analyzing economic and HDI data and policies enacted by the Communist party, my research seeks to determine how this single party has maintained power. These economic findings are applied to the use of power sharing, or consociationalism, in West Bengal, to find a positive causal relationship between power sharing and improved HDI in the state. I conclude that this relationship is significant in explaining the electoral behavior in West Bengal.


Ethnic conflict and racial tensions have plagued many regions of the world throughout history. Wherever two conflicting – or simply competing – ideologies existed, it seemed that conflict was always bound to occur. Power sharing or consociationalism has proven to be one of the most important and influential democratic theories in explaining such issues. Wherever conflicting cleavages existed, it was not only important to empower the citizens with the right to vote and determine a government, but for the functional structure of that government to be arranged in such as way as to empower all groups equally. This, as the name implies, is the essence of power sharing. Scholars have long debated the benefits and drawbacks of this theory – some vehemently defending its conflict resolving characteristics, other positing that such arrangements serve only to intensify ethnic cleavages and encourage politicians to emphasize differences in order to win a homogenous district. Numerous case studies have been performed, some supporting and some attempting to refute the theory. This paper intends to take a micro and disaggregated view of the efficacy of consociationalism as it applies to India and the state of West Bengal in particular. The central theme of this paper is explaining the electoral paradox that currently exists in West Bengal. For over 30 years the same political party, Communist Party of India, Marxist CPI(M) and the coalition, Left Front have been in control of the state legislature, despite news reports of pervasive poverty, a stagnating economy, and generally dissatisfied electorate. How can we reconcile this sort of electoral behavior with the current situation in West Bengal? And what role do power sharing institutions play? This paper proposes that the policies enacted by the CPI(M) government since 1977 have in fact improved the general welfare of West Bengal, and their use of power sharing institutions has significantly contributed to citizens’ quality of life.

The analysis will first focus on India as a whole, analyzing its movement from independence to democratization and from a centralized government to a decentralized one. This section draws heavily from the work of Lijphart to clearly demonstrate the consociationalist nature of the Indian democracy, and the ways in which power sharing institutions have helped the Union. The state of West Bengal will then serve as a case study for conducting various levels of analysis on its government, including assessing the quality of democracy as well as economic and human development. This data analysis seeks to explain how one party has managed to stay in power for so long and in such seemingly unfavorable conditions.

Democratic Development of India

At the time of India’s partition and independence from the British Raj, there were myriad interests vying for political power and influence in creating a constitution and determining the nation’s future development. Many Muslim leaders called for the creation of Pakistan as a separate state – an issue, which continues to create tension to this day. Indian leaders were divided on where to focus their attention in nation building; some wanted to emphasize the unique history and multicultural nature of India, while others focused on unity, security, and administrative efficiency.[1] It remains out of the scope of this research to analyze all of the influences in play at this pivotal moment, but an important influence for analysis is the constitution, the backbone of the Indian Union. Since its institution in 1950, there have already been 92 amendments to the Indian constitution. The sheer number of amendments over India’s 61-year history are striking when compared with the United States, a country that implemented only 27 amendments over a 200-year history. This does not necessarily indicate the quality of democracy in each nation, but illustrates the malleability of their respective constitutions and governance systems. This characteristic of the Indian constitution has allowed the nation to move towards a more decentralized form of governance.

India’s constitution created an incredibly centralized and powerful federal government. It was undoubtedly a democracy, but more centralized than the United States model Part IV of the constitution, which has remained unchanged since its creation reads:

38. 1[(1)] The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.
2[(2)] The State shall, in particular, strive to minimize the inequalities in income, and endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not
only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.
39. The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing—
(a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;
(b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub serve the common good;
(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;
(d) that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women.

While this section is not legally binding, it illustrates the image of India envisioned by the country’s leaders. As Chakrabarty suggests, leaders had a vision of a welfare state that had the positive duty to ensure that social and economic justice be served to its citizens, uphold the dignity of its citizens and ensure the unity and integrity of the nation (19). The constitution was written to institute a socialistic pattern of governance in which the state would remain a key player.

Indeed, the federal government continued to play a strong role throughout the Union. The constitution delegated many powers to the federal government and the president, including the executive right to create any ordinance that the President deems necessary, when outside a session of both houses of Parliament. Until reviewed by Parliament or withdrawn by the President, such ordinances have the full effect of law for a period of 6 weeks. The Lok Sabha[2] is the only house in which a monetary bill can be introduced, and such bills have the ability to, inter alia, levy taxes, and approve the borrowing of money. The Constitution further defines and controls many functions of the state. The President of India appoints a Governor to each state, who serves for a period of 5 years. The Governor also has the right to pass ordinances that take the full effect of law for a period of 6 weeks, until the State Legislative Assembly reviews it or the Governor decides to withdraw it. In regards to the State Legislative Assembly, the federal Constitution broadly defines the composition of each house,[3] the terms of office for each member, and the ability to dissolve one of the legislative houses. This incredible centralization of power demonstrates the vision for rule of law in India; such power concentration and strong central leadership was deemed necessary for a nation in its infancy at the turn of its independence. Examining the way the government operates today, it becomes apparent however that there has been a shift to greater emphasis on decentralization.

Part IX of the Constitution covers the area of the Panchayat, which are perhaps the most effective and successful cases of decentralization in any new state. This section defines various levels of localized governments, starting with the Gram Sabha at the village level and progressing to the district level, ending the chain of centralization at the State Legislative Assembly. These institutions will be covered in much greater detail in the next section of this paper, but it is important to note that the increased use of these decentralized forms of governance has greatly improved conditions at the local level of many states. Additionally, Governors are now largely symbolic and nominal positions, with the real power concentrated in the Chief Minister of the state, a position selected by the state electorate, which has further decentralized power away from the federal government.

Consociationalism and power sharing are defining features of the Indian government. Lijphart states that India displays the four major characteristics of a power sharing system: grand coalition, cultural autonomy, proportionality, and a minority veto.[4] For many years, the Congress party has dominated seats in Parliament, leading many people to posit that India is more of a single party system. The Congress party however, has often formed coalitions within the government, and because they are a large party residing in the center of the political spectrum, have been able to make simultaneous partnerships with parties on both the left and the right. As Lijphart says, the Congress party “has encompassed all the major sections and interests of society.”[5] As far as cultural autonomy is concerned, the Indian government has successfully managed to balance the various cultural and religious groups by delegating various forms of political power. Federal arrangements allow these groups to determine their own language and language education policies, and amendments have been passed to guarantee they are given representation within all levels of government. Separate laws were also formulated for Hindus and Muslims, a move that has helped assuage tensions between the two groups. Furthermore, the introduction of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian constitution required seats to be held in parliament by both women and a select group of Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes (SC/ST),[6] which further devolved power to otherwise marginalized groups of people.

The use of proportionality in India is a defining characteristic identified by Lijphart. While the Rajya Sabha is indirectly elected and includes 12 appointed members, the Lok Sabha is directly election by the population, with each state holding a number of seats proportional to the population. Furthermore, in cases of legislative contradictions, the directly elected Lok Sabha holds a de-facto veto over the Rajya Sabha.[7] Despite this, Lijphart also contends the minority veto is a characteristic of Indian government, however this aspect seems less convincing in this analysis as compared to the other three characteristics. He cites the ability of the Muslim minority in India to successfully lobby the parliament to overturn a Supreme Court decision that was an attack of Muslim personal laws. However, little evidence for this veto is provided beyond this example, so it remains questionable to what degree this characteristic aptly defines the Indian government.

Despite skepticism over Lijphart’s assessment of the minority veto, his identification of grand coalition, cultural autonomy, and proportional representation provide a compelling framework to classify India as a power-sharing nation. Through power-sharing, India has managed to successfully balance the incredible diversity of religions, ethnicities, and languages found in its population of over 1 billion, and has developed into one of the most compelling examples of democracy in the world today.

West Bengal Analysis

After contextualizing both India’s democratic development since independence and the government’s democratic and power-sharing qualities, the state of West Bengal provides a disaggregated view for analysis. Within Bengal is a highly paradoxical situation, with what appears to be a breakdown of electoral theory. Since 1977, the Communist Party of India (CPI) has been the majority party of the Left Front coalition (LF), and become the longest lasting democratically-elected communist regime in the world. Each election cycle, the citizens of West Bengal give the CPI and other LF incumbents a plurality of votes for the majority of the seats in the legislature.[8] However, conditions in West Bengal are below optimal – poverty is rampant the economy stagnating and media accusations abound of government corruption. Why then has the population continued to give legislative power to the same party and coalition? Given the aforementioned factors, electoral theory would predict a change in regime. In this context, the quality of democracy in West Bengal will first be evaluated, looking for evidence of voter fraud or other electoral irregularities. Next the economic and political situation in West Bengal will be assessed, keeping in mind the influences of power sharing and how it has affected democracy in West Bengal.

In considering the social and economic situation in West Bengal, the quality of West Bengali democracy must first be examined to determine whether or not there are free and fair elections. Indeed this would be the most obvious explanation to the continuing power of one party. Voter information in West Bengal was compiled starting in 1969 (the year before the CPI and LF came to power) until 2006, the latest election year. Seat data was included for the Indian National Congress party (INC), the majority party in the Indian parliament, along with the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Part of India, Marxist (CPI M). Though there are differences between the CPI and CPI(M), they are considered ideologically similar and will be grouped together for the purpose of this analysis.

West Bengal Electoral Data

Source: Election Commission of India[9]

The first point to address is the percentage of the electorate that voted in each election. As a reference, in the 2008 United States presidential elections, 61.6 percent of the total electorate voted. While this number holds specific meaning within the US political context, it is used as a threshold to judge the necessary voter turnout for a legitimate, functional democracy. As seen from the data, there are only two years – 1972 and 1977 – where voter turnout fell below this level, but even then the numbers remained relatively close to the threshold. In fact, after 1996 West Bengal had a voter turnout of above 80 percent, a remarkable achievement.

The analysis then requires a look at the constituent groups of the electorate, broken down by gender. There is a gross disproportion between the numbers of male or female voters, which may suggest skewed election results and inappropriately aggregating the political will of the state. The data however shows that this is not the case. Both by percentage of the electorate and in absolute terms, the ratio of male to female voters do not show any gross variation. There seems to be a general trend toward gender equality as far as population goes. This slight population gap that does exist calls to mind Amartya Sen’s article, “More Than 100 Million Women are Missing.”[10] Yet while a study linking his theories to the underdevelopment of West Bengal would certainly be interesting, such a work would be beyond the scope of this paper.

The number of seats won by the INC, CPI, and CPI(M) is included to numerically illustrate the LF’s rise to power versus the drop in popularity of the INC. The large changes in the number of seats won by the NIC and CPI(M) between 1971 and 1977 are indeed outliers in the data, however the numbers are explained by the change in political will of the electorate brought about by negative growth rates and increasing poverty at the time. These numbers are thus not outside the predictions of regular electoral democratic theory.

By themselves, however, these numbers can be limited and require further qualification. How can we know that these are accurate numbers? Any competent, yet corrupt regime could easily fake convincing numbers – rigging elections is often a common tactic of such regimes. The easiest method for verifying the numbers accuracy is assessing the 2006 election. One would think, perhaps in response to their 30 years of rule, the Election Commission of India conducted an elaborate and thorough monitoring of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly elections,[11] and reported that they were confident in the legitimacy of the elections and in the victory of the CPI(M) and the LF. However, no such reports exist for West Bengal before 2006, so our total data set is ultimately incomplete. However, in the extensive research conducted there was no substantial evidence of voter fraud or electoral corruption. Even though Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index gave India an overall score of 3.3 out of 10 (comparatively the US was given a score of 7.1) it appears as though one’s perception of corruption can be significantly greater than the actual instances of corruption in a given polity. A 2007 study by the CMS[12] , commissioned by Transparency International in India, reported that, “there is a wide gap between perception and actual experience of corruption in public services.” Indeed, the data collected showed a large discrepancy between the number of incidents perceived by the public and the actual number of incidents. Though corruption does exist in West Bengal, which has been acknowledged by the current leader of the LF,[13] it appears that it hasn’t affected the electoral process and is largely distorted by opposition parties looking to gain political leverage.

Having established the electoral process in West Bengal, other factors are considered that may influence the perplexing election results. As stated before, one of the reasons the election results are intriguing is the prevailing poor economic state of West Bengal. If a party has not managed to improve conditions, why would they continue to win the vote? In order to analyze this, a chart is utilized showing statewide GDP growth for West Bengal and nationwide GDP growth of India.[14]

GDP Growth for India and West Bengal

In order to overcome the lack of data for West Bengal from 1977 to 1980, Net Domestic Product per capita growth is used as a substitute. Initial analysis of the data shows that, GDP growth in West Bengal has been equal to or greater than the GDP growth of India as a whole. While this may seem to explain the 30-year paradox, the data shows a lack of continuity in this trend. Specifically, aside from sustained growth in 2001 – 2004, the periods of greater than average growth in West Bengal are punctuated by periods of below average growth. The spread of these numbers is illustrated from year 1987 to 1988. As a result of these gaps, it remains difficult to definitively surmise from this data why the CPI(M) and LF continue to win elections. Yet while the data is limited in showing victory in economic policy, we can use it to show the lack of a failure. Though it is difficult to conclude that this is the reason why they communist parties have remained in power for so long, it can be removed from the potential list of reasons why an electorate might want to remove them from power.

One of the main actions undertaken by the CPI(M) and LF coalition when they came into power was extensive land reforms. Of all the research conducted, not one failed to comment on this legislative act, making it necessary to analyze how these reforms have affected West Bengal. The effects of these land reforms cannot be fully analyzed without first understanding another very important institution in West Bengal – the Panchayati Raj system.

The Panchayati Raj institutions (PRI) are seen as India’s foremost institutions of decentralization. Manasendu Kundu provides a clear explanation of these institutions. PRIs delegate power to local authorities through three tiers of decentralization, the most local level being the gram panchayat. This consists of several adjacent villages that get together and directly vote for between 5 and 25 representatives, roughly working out to 700 voters per representative. The next tier is called the panchayat samiti, which oversees all of the gram panchayat in a unit called a development block. Each development block will consist of around twelve gram panchayats. The members of the panchayat samiti are also directly elected, and two to three panchayat samiti members represent each gram panchayat. Finally, the top level of this three-tier system is the zilla parishad. Members to this district-wide council are also directly elected, with two to three members elected to form each development block.

The powers delegated to these institutions are broadly defined, with the final powers of the PRIs in the hands of the state legislature. The federal constitution does provide a few guidelines however, stating that the lowest level should have the power to regulate “manners of common interest between the Panchayat’s and municipalities including spatial planning, sharing of water and other physical and natural resources, and the integrated development of infrastructure and environmental conservation.”[16] Overall, PRIs are focused on rural development, poverty alleviation, and all local issues. They do not control things such as taxation or legislation of law – which one might normally consider a typical state or federal issue. In addition, funding for these institutions is given in the form of grants by the state.

This explanation of the PRIs in India and West Bengal is to provide a brief explanation of the institutions’ response for land reforms on the rural poor. There are many significant aspects to these land reforms, including:[17]

i. Recorded the names of the sharecroppers (Operation Barga)
ii. Created an area ceiling for landowners and distributed any surplus among the landless and land poor rural workers though PRI’s
iii. Initiated an effort to use quasi-judicial methods to detect and redistribute surplus lands
iv. Provided credit to share-croppers to help them reduce their debt and break ties with landowners and money-lenders (essential indentured servitude)
v. Gave permanent title (up to 0.8 acres) to landless agricultural workers, artisans, and fisherman who are occupying lands of others as permissive possessors.
vi. Provided nominal sources of irrigation to the assignees of vested land where hydrological conditions permitted
vii. Provided subsidies for assignees of vested land to help develop the land
viii. Reformed tax structure to provide relief for small farmers
ix. Created a Food for Work program to help poor farmers during crisis

The recording of the names of sharecroppers (farmers who worked on lands not owned by them) allowed the government to extend greater legal rights to their labor. Specifically, it helped keep poor farmers from being evicted from the land they cultivated. By instituting an area ceiling for landowners, the state was directly addressing growing inequality; with land ownership concentrated in the hands of a few local elites, those elites were able to capture a majority of the rents from the land, which over many years led to drastic inequality. Setting a ceiling to land ownership allowed elites to maintain a sizeable amount of land while empowering the rural poor with opportunities to capture rents from the state’s growing agricultural economy. A permanent title provided to “landless citizens” was instituted to give them a permanent place to live, even if the workers had been evicted from the lands they farm on. In addition, providing irrigation was key to helping formerly landless farmers improve their livelihood conditions. This technology helped farmers cultivate their newly appropriated land more efficiently and at a lower cost, allowing them to be competitive in the market. Tax reforms essentially gave tax-breaks to individuals who owned below a certain area of land, and the Food for Work program was created to help farmers stay afloat after a bad season.

As evident, these reforms were implemented to help poor rural farmers and support the prominent agriculture industry in West Bengal. From 1980 – 1990, the years in which these reforms took most effect, agriculture constituted between 26 – 30 percent of the entire West Bengali economy. Over these years, the sector itself saw an incredible growth of 238 percent[18] , which could well be indicative of the land reforms instituted in that time frame. However, assuming causation beyond correlation between reform and growth is a claim, which must be thoroughly tested. Bardhan and Mookerjee have done extensive work on this issue and provide the data analysis.

One of the biggest issues for conducting data analysis is controlling for the quality of the data.[19] Bardhan and Mookherjee had little confidence in the numbers reported by the state regarding agricultural data, as they found the data collection methods to be inconsistent and ultimately lead to inaccurate and inflated numbers. As a result, independent surveys of agriculture output were conducted using various randomized village samples that controlled for various factors. Bardhan and Mookherjee concluded that previous research, which causally linked land reform to improved agricultural production over-estimated the effects of the reform. However, they did find a positive and significant correlation between the land reforms and increased production, and as a result of deeper levels of data analysis that controlled for various factors, concluded a positive causal relation between the two. A from the results is provided below.

Table 5B: Trends in Productivity, Incomes and Wage [20]
HYV= High Yield Variety

These numbers provide evidence to understand the growth that occurred in the agricultural sector of West Bengal since the 1980’s. Though the table only displays numbers up to 1995, further data indicates that such growth has continued into the 20th century. The use of HYV rice has increased more than 8-fold in this timeframe, and yield per hectare has more than doubled. High productivity has led to higher income and greater levels of development in the rural agriculture sectors of West Bengal. As a result, the causal relationship between land reform and growth can be cited as a compelling reason why the electorate in West Bengal has continued to re-elect the CPI(M) and LF governments.

While a causal relationship between the land reform implemented by the CPI(M) and LF government and the economic growth of the agricultural sector has been established, this analysis requires further examination of the specific role that the PRIs played in this success. As stated previously, one of the factors that was instrumental in the democratic success of India as a whole was the transition into a decentralized form of governance and the embrace of power-sharing institutions. Here we find a causal chain between the decentralization of power and the power-sharing aspects of the PRIs in West Bengal and the enormous success the land reforms had on the agricultural sector.

As per the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution, the structure of PRIs was changed so as to include mandated seats for both SC/ST groups and women. The breakdown was thus: in each Panchayat, the number of seats reserved for each SC/ST would be as close as possible to the actual proportion of the SC/ST in relation to the general population. Furthermore, at least one-third of the seats reserved for SC/ST were to be reserved for women of the SC/ST. More broadly, at least one-third of the seats reserved in the general Panchayat were reserved for women (including the SC/ST female requirement cited above). These same requirements are applied to the larger Municipalities and their bodies of governance. While these amendments became national law in the 1990’s with their passage, many states (including West Bengal) had been practicing these seat quotas already.

Many scholars (Lundberg et al. 1997, Banerjee et al. 2009) have pointed towards the positive correlation between the empowerment of women and an increase in HDI. Specifically, women tend to focus more attention on health, education, food, and children. Since West Bengal had been empowering women before the 73rd and 74th amendments mandated the rest of the nation to, we should expect to see an increase in HDI in West Bengal in the time before 1992 when the amendments passed. And indeed, the data reflects this.

HDI Measures Over Time

In 1981, before the 73rd or 74th amendments passed and only a few years after the CPI(M) and LF gained control, West Bengal had a similar HDI level to India as a whole. Ten years later, as the CPI(M) empowered women through PRIs while India as a country did not, West Bengal shows a much higher HDI than India, which supports previous research. By 2001, after the 73rd and 74th amendments were implemented throughout India, HDI became equal between the two. Though data for HDI stops at 2001, other indicators show the continued improvement of West Bengal. Life expectancy over 2002-2006 is slightly higher than India as a whole, and in 2007 the infant mortality rate was significantly lower in West Bengal than in India. It seems that the empowerment of women (certainly among other factors) has helped to improve the overall quality of life in West Bengal, adding more salient reasons explaining the prolonged success of the CPI(M) and LF government.

With this data, we can now effectively explain the voting record of West Bengal from 1977 until around the mid 1990’s. It seems clear that the CPI(M) and LF coalition government managed to introduce effective land reforms that contributed to economic growth, as well as utilized the existing PRIs in a way that empowered both women and the SC/ST classes. This level of empowerment has been linked to HDI growth, as confirmed by the pattern within the data for West Bengal.

However, how can the success of this government from the mid 1990’s to the present be accounted for? Recall that the HDI indicators of life expectancy and infant mortality rates in West Bengal continued to be better than those of India as a whole until 2007. In addition, GDP growth in West Bengal continued to grow past the mid-1990s. Beyond these positive developments, perhaps the most significant factor in explaining the government’s success is the way in which the CPI(M) managed to re-brand themselves throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s as an effort to capture the plurality of votes. Partha Basu provides insight for analysis of this trend. Beginning in the 1990’s, Jyoti Basu, the leader of the CPI(M) adopted a program of industrial policies that were pro-capitalistic and against the normal policy of the CPI(M). The party was trying to bring about a gradual capitalistic reform while avoiding the negative consequences associated with it. With the success of previous land reform and PRI use reaching a plateau, the CPI(M) adopted “pragmatic socialism.” As described by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the leader of the CPI(M) in 2000,[21]

The old models won’t work. The economy cannot be bound in a political framework. We used tot think that socialism can be reached through strengthen the state sector. The Soviet experience proved us wrong and china has learned the lesson as well. Here there are so many different ownership patterns- the state sector coexists with the join sector, the cooperative sector, the private sector, and even the foreign sector.

The private sector became the focus of his ownership plan, as he decided that the only way to grow the West Bengali economy was to improve the ailing industrial sector of the state. Bhattacharjee began to attract industrial investment from various multinational corporations, companies that a socialist leader tended to avoid associating with. He was adamant that he was not disobeying the basic tenants of socialism, arguing that it was necessary for industrial capitalists to invest in the state so that the working class can continue to thrive. He was strict about the condition that any investment undertaken would have to be on the conditions set forth by the government. Bhattacharjee was able to convince his constituents that such foreign investment was beneficial, and indeed many outside companies decided to invest in the state and the industrial sector began to grow. The data does support this claim. From 2000-2004, it appears that Bhattacharjee’s policies have maintained an average growth rate for the manufacturing industry of 4.35 percent, while maintaining a growth rate of 2.82 percent for the previously stagnating agricultural industry.[22] It was through this continued improvement and re-branding sustained from the mid 1990’s to 2006 that has allowed the CPI(M) to stay in power.


Scholars have often discussed power sharing and consociationalism in terms of ethnically divided societies. Theory and evidence shows that when such a divided society exists, the best means of governance must include some sort of power sharing institution. Indeed, we have seen this theory work quite well throughout India. Our analysis of West Bengal, however, delineates the ways in which power sharing, even outside of the context of a deeply divided society, can prove to be simply a good means of governance. Through the combination of effective policy reform and the empowerment of otherwise underrepresented social classes, the CPI(M) and LF government in West Bengal has managed to significantly grow the economy and improve the quality of life throughout the state. When these reforms began to plateau, the party remained a dynamic institution and effectively implemented a new version of “pragmatic socialism.” West Bengal stands as a testament to the success of power sharing and effective policy implementation, even outside the scope of underlying social influences. It will certainly be interesting to see how the upcoming elections for the State Legislative Assembly play out in April 2011. Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that West Bengal provides an interesting case study and further analysis of this region may provide illuminating insight that can help guide policy implementation for many other similar societies.

Image by Flickr user barry.pousman’s Photos, used under a Creative Commons license.


[1] Chakrabarty, Bidyut. Indian Politics and Society since Independence: Events, Processes and Ideology. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.
[2] The Indian Parliament is divided into two houses, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha is the lower house, and is directly elected by the citizens and set up in a traditional PR format. The Rajya Sabha is indirectly elected and contains 12 appointed seats.
[3] The language used in Part VI of the Constitution says, “as nearly as may be” as the qualifier before all compositional orders
[4] Lijphart, Arend. “The Puzzle of Indian Democracy: A Consociational Interpretation. “American Political Science Review 90.2 (1996): 258-68. JSTOR. Web. 17 Mar. 2011.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe: These refer to castes and tribes explicitly recognized by the Constitution of India as being particularly disadvantaged. A detailed understanding of these groups is not necessary for the purposes of this paper; it will suffice simply knowing that these are traditionally disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
[7] This “veto” is not explicit, but is rather derived from the significant majority the Lok Sabha holds over the Rajya Sabha. In cases of legislative contradictions, the two houses will hold a joint session to vote on the bill in question, so it is this majority that gives the Lok Sabha (545 members) the de facto veto over the Rajya Sabha (250 members).
[8] First past the post, unicameral legislature
[9] 1991 election data contained blatant data errors.
[10] This article empirically demonstrated the relationship between poverty and population gaps between men and women.
[11] Basu 2007
[12] CMS is simply the name of the organization, it is not an acronym for anything
[13] “Corruption Has Affected CPI(M) Rank, File: Buddhadeb.” The Hindu
[14] West Bengal data from 1977 to 1980 was approximated using increases in per capita income during those years. Data from 200, 2005-2009 for West Bengal was unavailable from my sources.
[15] Chapter 5 from Baviskar and Mathew, 2009
[16] Constitution of India, 243zd(3)(a)(i)
[17] Bandyopadhyay 1985.
[18] Central Statistical Organization, 11/26/1999.
[19] We can rest assured that the election data I analyzed previous is accurate, as the Electoral Commission of India, a federal commission used to monitor all national elections, has crosschecked it.
[20] Bardhan and Mookherjee, 2007, pg. 37.
[21] Basu, 2007.
[22] Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics, Government of West Bengal.

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