Democracy and Development in India

Democracy and Development in India: From Socialism to Pro-business by Atul Kohli. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 447pp., £54.95, ISBN 978 0 19 5697933

Written over a period of almost three decades, Democracy and Development in India is an outstanding collection of essays by Atul Kohli which discuss the paradigm of development and democracy as well as the changing relationship between the state and capital in India from a historical perspective. The essays show that over the last three decades the state and the ruling class in India have abandoned socialist ideology and have instead enthusiastically embraced a pro-capitalist neo-liberal ethos and practices which have had ‘negative implications for pursuing redistributive policies in India’ (p. 14). Following the Weberian state–society and comparative frame of analysis, the essays in this collection advocate a social democratic model of development where economic growth is accompanied by redistributive reforms and social justice.

The book has fifteen essays divided along three themes: political change, political economy and uneven regional development. In the first part, the essays discuss the complex dynamics of political change and power management in India. According to Kohli, the hegemonic ‘Congress system’, which provided political stability by accommodating diverse ethnic and regional interests and helped consolidate socialist democracy during the Nehru period, began to decline during the period of Indira Gandhi, whose ‘personalistic and populistic politics’ weakened India’s democratic institutions (p. 7). With this, various ethnic and regional political parties began to emerge, which resulted not only in the ‘growing fragmentation’ (p. 9) of political society but also in increasing political instability in India.

The second part of the book discusses ‘the political determinants of growth and distributional patterns in India’ (p. 105). Kohli explains the growth upsurge in India as ‘a product, not of liberal policies adopted in 1991, but of a growing state–capital alliance’ (p. 13) that began around 1980. Although this alliance has accelerated economic growth, it simultaneously widened inequality across classes and regions of India. In the final part, Kohli employs a comparative analysis of the various types of Indian state – neo-patrimonial (Bihar), social democratic (West Bengal) and developmental (Gujarat) – and the politics of regional development, and concludes that a ‘parliamentary-communist’ or ‘social democratic’ regime provides the best hope ‘for facilitating redistribution within the framework of
democratic capitalism’ (p. 249).

The essays are well argued, theoretically original and amply substantiated by empirical evidence. The only problem, however, is that most of these essays were written long ago and have not been updated. Today’s India is very different from that of the 1980s. Despite this, the volume’s use of comparative methodology and state–society analysis makes it an important contribution to the literature on political sociology and comparative politics.
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Note: Reviewed by S. Sahoo in Political Studies Review, September 2011

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