Under what conditions does political participation by marginalized groups promote redistributive outcomes? Based on a comparative historical analysis of three states in India – Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, I find that the policy preference of lower caste political elites as well as voters is mediated by the level of status inequality across caste. Under conditions of high inequality, which is indicative of discrimination and humiliation faced by members of lower caste groups, concerns of dignity and recognition find precedence over purely redistribute policies. The politics of dignity is manifested through symbolic representation directed at celebrating lower caste icons and cultural practices as well as through reorganizing the ethnic composition of the state bureaucracy to accommodate non-dominant groups. Economic redistribution finds support only once some equalization of social hierarchy is achieved through greater representation. The politics of dignity can transition into redistributive politics if lower caste social coalitions continue to remain in political power through the gradual development of programmatic policies. This paper argues that the path to redistribution in multiethnic societies has to address the question of recognition and dignity along its way.