Why do people in some places experience far higher levels of social development than others? In a world in which millions of people, particularly in developing countries, continue to lead lives plagued by illiteracy and ill-health, understanding the conditions under which social development does or does not occur is of critical importance to political scientists and policy makers alike. Drawing on a study of the stark variations in educational and health outcomes among Indian states, this dissertation develops a theory of political community as a powerful determinant of public policy and collective action in multi-ethnic democracies.
Based on a combination of archival research; census, survey and macro-economic data; open-ended elite interviews; focus group meetings and participant observation in the four states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, I argue that the cohesiveness of subnationalist identification influences both the progressiveness of state social policy as well as the extent of collective action on the part of citizens to monitor the public services provided by the state, which together give rise to very different levels of social development. I delineate how a powerful sense of subnationalism has given rise to the significant social achievements of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, while a fragmented subnational identity has resulted in abysmal levels of social development in Uttar Pradesh. I also specify how the move from a fragmented to a more cohesive subnational identity in the state of Rajasthan triggered important improvements in social development, especially education. I test the applicability of the subnationalism model across all Indian states using a combination of cross-sectional and pooled cross-sectional time-series regression analyses. Across a range of specifications and estimation techniques, the measure of subnationalism that I develop, is shown to have a positive and statistically significant impact on social expenditures and indicators for 15 major Indian states from 1971-2006. I also undertake a comparative historical analysis of the relationship between subnationalism and social development Quebec in Canada and Scotland in the U.K. towards indicating that the subnationalism model holds beyond Indian states.