The impact of India's regional parties on voter turnout and human development

Devin K. JOSHI, Singapore Management University


While some analysts fear that regional parties in federal democracies are narrow in orientation, Indian experience has shown that regional parties can sometimes improve both voter turnout and human development (HD) in their region. Based on the experience of the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamilnadu, this article develops a theory of how regional parties in developing countries may occasionally succeed at these goals while identifying five obstacles that may prevent HD improvement even if voter turnout expands. Testing this theory across Indian states over the period from 1970 to 2000, I discover that regional parties significantly increased voter turnout. Utilising pooled regression analysis of the human development index (HDI), I find that HD performance was largely determined by initial conditions, social spending, agricultural yield and gender equality, but the evidence also suggests a small but positive relationship between regional party control of state governments and HDI improvement.