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Arenas of Contestation


Rumki Basu

PUBLIC POLICY AND POLITICS IN INDIA: HOW INSTITUTIONS MATTER
By Kuldeep Mathur
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 295, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 9 September 2013

This book is an attempt to put together some of Professor Kuldeep Mathur’s research essays that focus on an analysis of India’s public policies in the pre- and post- 91 era. These essays have been published as articles in journals, as monographs, or included as chapters in books edited by others. These are not micro studies of specific public policies in India, but reflect or attempt to explore the visible and often invisible factors involved in the processes of public policy making in India. The chapters in the book focus on a common theme—the complexity of public policy making in a milieu of democratic politics in today’s post-liberalized India, where, in addition to state institutions, the corporate sector and civil society organizations have begun to play a more substantive and visible role in producing public policy. These are being formalized through the creation of new kinds of agencies and partnerships. A multi-actored ‘network governance’ structure is replacing the single focal point of government. Some chapters in this book have explored the actual process of policy formulation in specific sectors.   Kuldeep Mathur rightly states that much of the field of policy analysis has been dominated by the literature emanating from a techno-rational perspective, where economists and scientists have dominated till recently. This rational technocratic approach greatly overlooked the arena of contestation in policy formulation, of bargaining and compromises between interested stake-holders in the arena of politics.   If individual policy makers are inconsequential in the Marxist tradition, the pluralist approach perceives them as neutral arbitrators in negotiating compromises among diverse conflicting groups. Perhaps the most seminal contribution to the re-emergence of institutions in the policy science literature is the work of James March and John Olsen. They visualize institutions not as formal structures but rather as a collection of norms, rules and routines. Institutions provide the ‘logic of appropriateness’ that influence behaviour. The currently popular public choice theory treats politics as a market place, arguing that the rational way is to allow groups to compete freely without encumbrances and the role of the state is to facilitate the interplay of the social forces by diminishing its own role as well as those of its officials in this political market.   The field of policy studies has received different kinds of attention from different scholarly persuasions. The fact that policy studies in India reflect a rich diversity of approaches to policy ...


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