Researching the politics of development
Class politics and social protection: the implementation of India’s MGNREGA
Working Paper 46
In this paper, I direct attention to the role of class politics in shaping the outcomes of social protection interventions. I highlight the ways in which class politics is constituted by the interaction of class relations and the balance of substantive class power in a polity. I demonstrate the ways in which variations in class politics influence outcomes of a large social protection programme in India, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). In localities where either of the elite classes has successfully co-opted or eliminated the other, their stark contradictions against the interests of agricultural labourers result in them sabotaging the labour-friendly MGNREGA or implementing it half-heartedly. On the other hand, in localities characterised by an overarching framework of contest between the precarious classes and the entrenched classes, dominant class hostility to agricultural labourers is dissipated and labour-friendly programmes such as the MGNREGA have a chance of being implemented. However, the transformative aspect of the programme’s intent, in terms of dissolving the relations of power that bolster poverty, appears to be more in evidence in localities where emergent classes with precarious surpluses, together with agricultural labourers, challenge the influence of the entrenched classes. In these localities, the implementation of the programme, even where fraught with difficulties, contributes to dissolving hierarchical relations and establishing egalitarian ones.