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The Politics of Preference

Democratic Institutions and Affirmative Action in the United States and India

Sunita Parikh

Publication Year: 1997

Sunita Parikh examines the history and fate of affirmative action programs in two ethnically heterogeneous democracies, the United States and India. Affirmative action programs in the United States represent a controversial policy about which the American public feel at best ambivalence and at worst hostility, while in India the expansion of reservation policies in recent years has led to riots and contributed to the fall of governments. And yet these policies were not particularly controversial when they were introduced. How the policy traveled from these auspicious beginnings to its current predicament can best be understood, according to Parikh, by exploring the changing political conditions under which it was introduced, expanded, and then challenged. Although they are in many respects very different countries, India and the United States are important countries in which to study the implementation of ascriptive policies like affirmative action, according to Parikh. They are both large, heterogeneous societies with democratic political systems in which previously excluded groups were granted benefits by the majorities that had historically oppressed them. Parikh argues that these policies were the product of democratic politics--which required political parties to mobilize existing groups as voters--and the ethnically heterogeneous nature of Indian and U.S. society--where ethnic markers are particularly salient sources of identification as groups. Affirmative action in both countries was introduced because it could be used to solidify and expand electoral coalitions by giving benefits to defined minority groups, according to Parikh. As the policy became better known, it became more disliked by non-targeted groups, and it was no longer an appeal which was cost free for politicians. This book will be of interest to social scientists concerned with race and ethnic relations and with the comparative study of political and social systems. Sunita Parikh is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Columbia University.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-29

In comparative politics, studies that attempt to explain the development of similar political phenomena across different countries are less common than the subdiscipline's title suggests. Even when the object of research is explicitly comparative rather than limited to a single nation, it is still frequently subject to one of the many forms of balkanization from which...

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2. The Context of Affirmative-Action Policy Development

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pp. 31-58

In this chapter I set out the conditions under which affirmative action became an attractive policy choice, both for social groups and for politicians seeking electoral support. The argument that the conditions of democratic politics create incentives for political actors to develop or respond to demands for policies accounts for the emergence of policies in...

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3. The Precursors of Affirmative-Action Policy

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pp. 59-85

In this chapter I explore the conditions under which African-Americans and untouchables were finally able to succeed in gaining benefits from the majorities that had historically oppressed and excluded them. The introduction, adoption, and expansion of affirmative-action policies was part of a longer process that included related but quite distinct programs to...

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4. Affirmative Action under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon

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pp. 87-120

In the preceding two chapters I discussed the historical and cultural context in which affirmative action could emerge as a policy choice in the United States and India and the conditions that facilitated positive political responses to African-American and untouchable demands for such policies. In this chapter and the three that follow, I explore why affirmative...

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5. Affirmative Action under Carter, Reagan, and Bush

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pp. 121-143

In this chapter I analyze the final expansion of affirmative-action policies during the Carter administration and their subsequent retrenchment during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. During the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, affirmative-action policy experienced a secular positive trend in which a voluntary, weak policy was transformed into a...

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6. Early Reservation Policy Development in India

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pp. 145-168

In this chapter and the one the follows, I analyze the development of affirmative action, known as reservation policies, in India. The Indian experience diverges in several ways from that of the United States. The antecedents to the final policies began much earlier, at the beginning of the twentieth century. The policies initially targeted untouchables, but they...

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7. Reservation Policies under Party Competition

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pp. 169-192

As long as Nehru was alive, his popular appeal and political power transcended factional conflicts within the Congress party and ensured that resolutions would be found to conflicts that had the potential to be damaging. After his death, however, the diversity within the Congress, which had been one of its greatest assets, began to present grave problems. The party...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 193-208

At the beginning of this book I set forth three goals for this analysis. The first goal was to gain a greater understanding of the politics and process of affirmative-action policy development in the United States and India. Affirmative action is part of a class of policies, which might be termed ascriptive policies, that generate considerable conflict but endure, even in...


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pp. 209-213


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pp. 215-225


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pp. 227-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027422
E-ISBN-10: 0472027425
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472107452
Print-ISBN-10: 0472107453

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 1997

OCLC Number: 665840844
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Politics of Preference

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-.
  • India -- Politics and government -- 1919-1947.
  • Race discrimination -- Government policy -- India -- History.
  • Minorities -- Government policy -- United States -- History.
  • India -- Politics and government -- 1857-1919.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • Minorities -- Government policy -- India -- History.
  • Affirmative action programs -- Government policy -- India -- History.
  • Race discrimination -- Government policy -- United States -- History.
  • Affirmative action programs -- Government policy -- United States -- History.
  • India -- Politics and government -- 1947-.
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