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Understanding a Possible India

Kham Khan Suan Hausing

By Stuart Corbridge , John Harriss and Craig Jeffrey
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 384, Rs. 750.00


How and why could India remain a possible and successful democratic polity with an impressive economic growth despite the persistence of, inter alia, large-scale poverty, caste and gender inequalities, corruption and ‘weak’ state capacities? In a book already published by Polity Press over a year ago with the title, India Today, three leading Indianists, Stuart Corbridge, John Harriss and Craig Jeffrey have gainfully used insights gleaned from their extensive comparative knowledge and field experiences respectively in East, South and North India, to engage thirteen ‘important’ and ‘interlocking’ questions in the book under discussion. Organized into three parts, these questions range from when and why did India take off, the conditions of the poor and the workers, the state of ‘inclusive growth’ and social justice, to questions of politics like how a ‘weak’ state promotes audacious reform, the success of India’s democracy, government’s responsiveness, Hindu nationalism, rural dislocations and violent Maoist insurgency. The authors also ask probing societal questions including whether India has a civil society, the relevance of caste, condition of women and whether India could benefit from demographic dividends.  The authors present India’s impressive economic take-off since the 1980s from a ‘longer perspective’ (p. 40). Unlike the ‘singular take-off’ thesis which jettisons the blighted ‘Hindu rate of growth’ period from the economic turnaround in the 1980s and 90s, this perspective allows them to better capture the ‘cumulative dimensions of growth process in India’ (p. 24). They underscore how politics matter more than institutions in fashioning macro-economic reform policies favourable to global market integration to unshackle India from dirigiste regimes of price control and import-substitution industrialization of the Nehruvian and Indira years (p. 44). Meanwhile, the authors are cognisant of the import of quality of institutions—secure property rights regimes, rule of law, impartial bureaucracy, etc., all of which are colonial legacies and effectively used by the founding fathers—in engendering India’s economic take-off (ibid.)  Despite decades of capital accumulation, trade and financial liberalization India has limited success record in poverty reduction. The authors underline widening social and spatial inequalities in India which is reinforced by overwhelming dependence of its populations on agricultural income and non-agricultural ‘informal’ sectors (p. 49). This, coupled with widespread social discrimination, deteriorating public distribution system spawned by weak, inefficient and corrupt governments, implies that dalits and Scheduled Tribes would continue to lose out from economic growth (pp. 80-81). While this entrenches the material disabilities and ...

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