Rikhil Bhavnani

Corruption Among India’s Politicians: What Do Asset Disclosures Suggest?

Asset disclosures, mandated of a third of the world’s legislators, may be used to study corruption among politicians. I conduct such an exercise here, using data from India. Comparing the change in winners’ and losers’ self-declared family assets in India’s recent state and national elections indicates that election winners increased their assets by 4-6% a year. 4-9% of election winners appear suspect, as their asset increases exceed the premium that they could legitimately earn. Although these results are arguably modest and statistically fragile, they are larger and more statistically robust for members of the BJP. Subject to data reliability, these estimates give us reason to doubt the popular characterization of all of India’s politicians as massively corrupt. Members of parliamentary majorities and cabinets, and those from constituencies reserved for minorities, are more likely to be suspect. The method developed here could be used to study corruption among politicians elsewhere.

Rikhil R. Bhavnani (Ph.D. Stanford University 2010) is an assistant professor of political science. His research and teaching focus on inequalities in political representation and corruption among politicians, particularly in South Asia. Other projects examine the effects of migration on political participation and violence in India, the role of the Great Depression in helping the countries of South Asia secure their political independence, the selection and impact of leaders, and the effects of foreign aid on economic growth. Rikhil’s research is characterized by a close attention to causality, and by interests in political and economic development. His work has been published in the American Political Science Review and is forthcoming in The Economic Journal. Prior to his appointment at Wisconsin, he was a visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University.