India: Commemorative Volume
Edited by Joseph Elder, Edward Dimock, and Ainslie Embree
New Delhi: Manohar, 1998
The study of Indian politics offers a formidable challenge to political scientists. Good
political analysis must be firmly rooted in relevant empirical data while being informed, and
ultimately advancing, the latest developments in the theory of politics. The diversity,
distinctiveness that are central to Indian politics means that making sense of Indian politics
requires an extraordinary investment in intellectual resources. Collecting the data necessary for
good analysis in a society with almost a billion people speaking 15 official languages, practicing
all of world’s major religions, and acting in a context with unique social and political institutions
is a daunting prospect for any scholar, but especially to those primarily interested in making
broader theoretical contributions and those non-specialists wishing to compare the lessons of the
Indian experience with other countries.
The magnitude of challenge of studying Indian politics is more than matched by rewards
of integrating the study of Indian politics into the broader discipline of political science. Indeed,
studying Indian politics and political science form a wholesome dialectic. The study of Indian
politics, precisely because of its diversity and richness, has a lot to offer political science, and
analytical approaches recently developed in the broader discipline provide powerful tools to
improve our understanding Indian politics. While students of Indian politics have already made
important contributions to the discipline, integrating the study of Indian politics with concepts
and analytical frameworks of political science promises more advances than ever before.
The chapter will begin by surveying the areas in which American political scientists have
contributed to the study of Indian politics. I provide this overview to show the broad range and
richness of American studies. The range and richness is important because only with a firm
understanding of Indian politics, are analysts able to draw lessons that contribute to the broader
study of political science. The chapter will then assess the areas in which the study of Indian
politics have made outstanding contributions to the discipline of political science. I will argue
that the analysis of politics in India has helped political scientists come to better terms with the
concept of political development. Furthermore, analysis of India’s rich culture has enabled
important advances in our understanding the relationship between culture and politics. Finally, I
will show how study of Indian politics has contributed to the broader study of political parties
and party systems. Both Indian politics and the discipline of political science have changed
considerably in the last few years. In my conclusion, I will contend that innovations in the
discipline of political science can advance our understanding of recent developments in Indian
THE TERRAIN OF INQUIRIES
Prior to the 1950s, American political scientists were largely unconcerned with politics in
developing countries. They were especially indifferent to politics in the far off and exotic India
which after all was in the domain of British rule. However, the end of World War II brought the
beginning of the “American Century” with its American military hegemony, a concern for
preempting the spread of communism, and the United State’s rapidly growing international
economic interests. Simultaneously, struggles for national independence spread throughout the
colonial world liberating Africa and much of Asia from colonial rule, in the process creating
“virgin territory” for the American idealism and its efforts to remake the world. These
circumstances provided the impetus for the Americans’ study of politics in what became know as
the “Third World.”
American programs to study India became institutionalized only in the 1950s, and
American scholars began publishing studies of Indian politics by the end of the decade. One of
the earliest volumes written by an American on the Indian public administration was by Paul
Appleby (1953), a veteran of promoting rural development in the United States through his role
as Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the New Deal. Appleby’s
volume was widely read throughout India. The cold war, communist revolution in China and
India’s own communist insurrection in Telegana raised great concern about communist
expansion, and two landmark books on Communist Party of India were published during this
period. (Kautsky 1956; Overstreet and Windmiller 1959) The most prolific American analyst of
Indian politics, Myron Weiner, began his corpus with Party Politics in India (1957), a volume
that provides an insightful overview of India’s major opposition parties and places the evolution
of India’s party system in a comparative perspective informed by contemporary theories of party
politics. Drawing from papers presented in a 1956 seminar at Berkeley, Richard Park and Irene
Tinker (1959) edited a volume on the role of political leadership in post-colonial societies. Joan
Bondurant (1958) analyzed Gandhian philosophy and political strategy.
American analysis began the 1960s with a concern for the integrity of India, but by the
end of the decade, despite the war with China, the rise of cultural nationalism in the South and
severe drought, the resilience of Indian democracy had earned the respect of most American
political scientists. Selig Harrison’s highly influential India: Dangerous Decades (1960), Myron
Weiner’s The Politics of Scarcity (1962) and his essays in Political Change in South Asia (1963)
articulately expressed the apprehension that mixing democracy, economic growth, and traditional
social institutions could be an explosive combination that threatened the integrity of India.
Harrison and Weiner’s concern for the survival of India set an agenda addressed by much of the
work later in the decade. Paul Brass (1965), Myron Weiner (1967), Stanley Kochanek (1968),
and Richard Sisson (1972) provided analysis that highlighted the importance of Congress party in
building the new nation by bringing traditional groups into the democratic process while
providing them with responsive and stable government. These studies along with Lloyd and
Susanne Rudolph’s The Modernity of Tradition (1967) and Robert Hardgrave’s (1969) study of
the political incorporation of the Nadar caste into Tamil Nadu politics played an important role
in demonstrating that modernity and tradition did not amount to a volatile confrontation between
the irresistible object and immovable force but rather were social forces which interacted in ways
that might enhance political stability while producing continuity and change.
Americans began to broaden their investigation of Indian politics during the 1960s.
Weiner (1968) continued the trend concerned with local politics by editing a volume on state
politics. Franda (1968) conducted a study of Indian federalism. Weiner and Kothari (1965)
edited one of the first volumes to study Indian voting behavior. This was followed by Craig
Baxter’s (1969) examination of district level voting trends. Baxter (1969) also published a study
of the Jana Sangh, and Howard Erdman (1967) published his examination of the evolution of the
Swantantra party. Granville Austin (1967) completed a masterful study of the writing of India’s
constitution. David Bayley (1969) published his very interesting study of the Indian policy and
political development. The 1960s also saw the publication of the first American academic
studies of India’s foreign policy (Harrison 1961; Fisher et al. 1963; Stein 1969).
The tumultuous politics of the 1960s gave rise to a range of studies examining how
Indian politics accommodated the radical forces that confronted it. Marcus Franda (1971)
examined radical politics in West Bengal and then co-edited with Paul Brass (1973) a volume
analyzing radicalism in other states. Lewis Fickett (1976) completed a study of India’s socialist
parties. Important work was also completed by Das Gupta (1970), Brass (1974), and Barnett
(1976) on the politics of cultural nationalism with special attention paid to language policy.
Some of the most interesting American work on Indian politics during the 1970s
examined public policy and how it reflected and in turn shaped state-society relations. Francine
Frankel’s (1971) study of India’s Green Revolution and her magisterial study of India’s political
economy (1978) were important examples of this trend. Many of the chapters in Education and
Politics in India (Rudolph and Rudolph 1972) used local-level studies to generate insights about
how the interaction between social groups and policymakers affected the formation of education
policies. Stanley Kochanek’s (1974) investigation of the role of organized business associations
provided illuminating insights into the historical evolution of India’s best organized interest
group and its surprisingly limited influence over Indian policy. Donald Rosenthal (1976; 1977)
completed two volumes that investigated the role of local elites in urban and rural politics.
Meanwhile Stanley Heginbotham (1975) and James Bjorkman’s (1979) books provided in depth
examinations of the workings of Indian bureaucracy.
During the 1970’s, scholars based in the United States, at times collaborating with Indian
scholars, provided some of the most thorough and sophisticated analyses of Indian voting
behavior (Franda and Field 1974, Bhagwati 1975, Barnett 1975; Field 1977; Palmer 1975;
Weiner 1978; Eldersveld and Ahmed 1978; and Blair 1979). Stephen Cohen published his
important study of the Indian army (Cohen 1971). Americans continued to study Indian foreign
policy (Barnds 1972). They provided assessments of Indira Gandhi’s extraordinary political
leadership with evaluations that ranged from sympathetic (Carras 1979) to critical (Hart 1976).
Many of the most innovative American contributions to the study of Indian politics
during the 1980’s followed the lead of Francine Frankel (1978) in investigating the ways in which
Indian democracy accommodated social inequality. Ron Herring’s Land to the Tiller (1983) used
an insightful comparison of agrarian reform in Kerala with reforms in Sri Lanka and Pakistan to
make a sophisticated normative argument for radical land reform. Marshall Bouton (1985)
examined the development of rural radicalism through a detailed ecological analysis of the
agrarian structure in Tamil Nadu. Leslie Calman (1985) analyzed the forces behind the rural
poor to mobilize and protest against inequity. Atul Kohli’s (1987) comparative analysis of rural
poverty alleviation in three states found the nature of political parties to be a key variable in
explaining the efficacy of poverty alleviation efforts. Holly Sims (1988) comparative study of
study of agricultural policy in Indian and Pakistani Punjab demonstrated how India’s democratic
regime promoted more equitable and effective development than the Pakistan’s authoritarian
regime. The Social Science Research project on South Asian Political Economy produced a
volume edited by Desai, Rudolph, and Rudra (1984) which included contributions of political
scientists as well as economists, historians and anthropologists from India and the United States
which demonstrated the complex contingency of the impact of agrarian structure on agricultural
productivity in India.
The economic issues and interests highlighted by these studies arise in a societal context
where caste hierarchies shape the structure and dynamics of inequality. Weiner and Katzenstein
(1981) and Galanter (1984) completed studies of India’s affirmative action programs. Paul Brass
(1983, 1985) published a collection of his essays in two volumes that provide us with a nuanced
analysis of the impact of caste on electoral competition in Northern India. In these volumes,
Brass compares India’s political parties with those of Western Europe to contend that Indian
parties have been distinctively “ideological in principle but opportunistic in practice.” In
addition, he provides extensive documentation of his argument that in Northern states the
Congress based its support on a coalition of elite castes (especially Brahmins and Rajputs),
Muslims and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes. When read with his two chapters in Gould
and Ganguly (1993) they provide a cogent analysis of the reasons for the decline of the Congress
I in northern India.
Before the end of the 1980s, three works appeared that were especially impressive in their
empirical scope and theoretical contribution. The collection of essays by American, Indian, and
British scholars jointly edited by Francine Frankel and M.S.A. Rao (1989, 1990) analyzed how,
as democratic practice eroded the power and legitimacy of the Brahminical social order, India’s
increasingly assertive backward castes were incorporated into its democratic order through
different patterns of interaction among its caste, religious, and political institutions. Atul Kohli’s
(1987) edited volume assembles essays that examine how the spread of political participation has
shaped the evolution of India’s political institutions. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne H. Rudolph’s
In Pursuit of Lakshmi (1987) demonstrated the importance of the state institutions as both an
objects of political contestation and as an independent actors shaping the political process.
In addition to the concern for the dynamics of state-society relations, American political
scientists pursued other areas of research. Two of the more innovative works investigated the
interface between India’s domestic and international political economy. Joseph Grieco (1984)
conducted an interesting study of India’s encounter with the international computer industry, and
Dennis J. Encarnation (1989) examined India’s efforts to limit the presence of foreign
multinationals. Lloyd Rudolph (1984) edited a suggestive volume exploring the impact of public
policy on the cultural change. Raju Thomas (1986) examined international and domestic
variables in his examination of India’s security policy. India’s foreign relations with its
neighbors were the topic of edited volume by Ziring (1982). While its relations with the United
States was the focus of a volume edited by Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph (1980).
American work in the 1980, extended previous work in a number of areas. Field (1980)
and Myron Weiner (1983) completed studies of India’s elections and electoral behavior. Wood
(1984) edited a volume on state politics in India. Sisson and Wolpert (1988) edited a collection
of essays on the Indian National Congress prior to Independence. Anderson and Damle (1988)
published a remarkably well research study of the history of the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
During the 1990s, much of the best American work on Indian politics employed
innovative comparative research strategies to conduct more tightly focussed investigations of key
issues in comparative politics. Atul Kolhi’s Democracy and Discontent replicated Myron
Weiner’s (1967) study of the Congress party to demonstrate that the deterioration of party
organization in the face of increased political mobilization of the Indian public had contributed to
a crisis of governability. Amrita Basu (1992) explored the advantages and disadvantages of
political activism in political parties and NGO’s by comparing women’s activism in the
Communist Party of India (Marxist) with Shramik Sangathana. John Echeverri-Gent (1993)
investigated the relative effectiveness of implementing rural poverty alleviation programs
through government departments and through panchayats by comparing implementation of the
Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra with the Jawahar Rozgaar Yojana in West
Bengal. Paul Brass (1997) compared the ways in which five incidents of collective violence have
been interpreted in order to investigate the ways in which the politics of interpretation promote
and subvert various understandings of the incidents.
The effort to use comparative methods to more rigorously examine Indian politics during
the 1990s has led to important attempts to incorporate India into cross-national comparisons. By
comparing India’s public policies with those of other countries in the domains of education and
child labor, Myron Weiner’s The Child and the State in India (1991) demonstrated how
distinctive social and cultural features of India have contributed to a an underemphasis on
primary education. In an effort to better understand the politics of affirmative action, Sunita
Parikh (1996) compares the evolution of India’s programs to reserve jobs, education and political
representation for underprivileged castes with affirmative action programs in the United States.
John Waterbury’s (1993) study of public sector enterprises in India, Mexico, Egypt, and Turkey
highlighted the parallels between the problems of India’s and those of the other countries.
Waterbury’s concludes that the problems of public sector enterprises in developing countries are
intrinsic to public ownership rather than country-specific historical and cultural variables. By
comparing the development of the computer industry in India, Korea and Brazil, Peter Evans’
book, Embedded Autonomy develops an important critique of neo-liberal economic policies,
contending that the key issue industrial development is not whether the state should intervene to
promote industrial development but how should it intervene.
During the 1990s, Leslie Calman (1992) published an important study of women’s
politics. Dennis Dalton (1993) reevaluated Mahatma Gandhi’s political strategy of civil
disobedience. Gould and Ganguly (1993) edited a volume of studies of India’s general elections
in 1989 and 1991. There were also important works on India’s foreign relations with the United
States (Gould and Ganguly 1993), India’s role in the Bangladesh independence struggle (Rose
and Sisson 1993), India’s relations with its neighbors (Babbage and Gordon 1992), and the
conflict in Kashmir (Ganguly 1997).
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE STUDY OF INDIAN POLITICS TO POLITICAL SCIENCE
Study of Indian politics during the last fifty years has challenged scholars to investigate
the politics of change. At least through the early 1980s, political scientists analyzed political
change through the concept of political development. Whether due to an interest in making the
world safe for the United States or simple ethnocentrism, most American political scientists
viewed political development as advancing along the path from traditional to modern polities,
almost uniformly understood as Western liberal democracy. In their thinking, all good things
capitalist development, secularism, liberalism, and democratic institutions went together.
Deviations from the path were viewed as setbacks to development.
Scholars analyzing Indian politics were among the first to critique this conventional
wisdom. Selig Harrison and Myron Weiner asserted that democracy could derail development.
Harrison’s India: The Dangerous Decades traces how India’s democracy in the 1950’s gave birth
to groups whose demands threatened the integrity of the country. For Harrison, traditional India
was characterized by an overwhelming array of parochial interests that made political unity an
exception to the complex mosaic of political authority that prevailed on the subcontinent
throughout most of its history. If there was any basis for national unity in Harrison’s view, it was
the sanskritic culture that transcended the regions. However, the mobilization of the lower castes
under Indian democracy threatened to undermine brahmanical traditions. Harrison’s prescient
work highlighted issues that in one form or another have confronted India to this day. Efforts to
accommodate demands of traditionally subordinated groups continue to be divisive, and regions
on the periphery of the Hindi-heartland continue to assert demands for greater autonomy. In
retrospect, Harrison was unduly pessimistic about the capacity of Indian democracy to
accommodate conflict. India survived its dangerous decades because of, not despite, its
democracy, and Harrison provides us with few analytic insights to understand how.
Myron Weiner’s The Politics of Scarcity joined in highlighting the contradictions of
political development. Weiner concluded that economic development, by promoting the
organization of new interest groups, often disrupts rather than facilitates political development.
(p. 238) As Weiner noted, many in India and abroad, viewed the organization of new interests
with considerable disdain. In their view, the new interests were parochial and disruptive. At a
time when India’s national leaders looked to technocratic expertise to resolve the nation’s
problems, democracy obstructed technocracy. Weiner shows how the government turned to
authoritarian measures e.g. the Preventive Detention Act, the Press (Objectionable Matter)
Act, President’s Rule, the Industrial Disputes Act and the Maintenance of Essential Services Act
in an effort to restrain disruptive demands. However, Weiner puts little stock in
authoritarianism which he asserts may radicalize the new groups. Instead, he advocates a
strategy of “accommodation and absorption” based on his appreciation of the fact that India’s
democratic institutions can be altered so as to better accommodate the demands of the new
Works like those of Harrison and Weiner prefigure later seminal work by Samuel
Huntington (1968, Crozier, Huntington and Watanuki, 1975) who argued that “premature” or
“excessive” political mobilization can lead to a “crisis of democracy.” Along similar lines,
Mancur Olson (1982) later conceptualized economic development as a collective action problem
in which the particularistic interests articulated by interest groups conflicted with the “national
interest.” For Olson, the conflict was an important cause of economic stagnation and the
“decline of great nations.” By the late 1960s, American political scientists drew from India’s
experience to demonstrate that democratic states had much greater powers of accommodation
and resilience than had been anticipated.
Theories of political development during the 1960s were preoccupied with national
integration. They exalted the nation-state and posited identification with it as teleological
endpoint of political development (Emerson 1962). Ethnic and religious identities were viewed
as being “traditional” and parochial. They were therefore divisive impediments to “modern”
national integration (Geertz 1967). Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph (1967) criticized the
conventional dichotomy between tradition and modernity and contended that traditional forms of
social organization could facilitate integration into modern polities. The Rudolph’s argued that
the distinction between tradition and modernity was based on crude ideal-types which created an
artificial gap between the two. The “imperialism of categories” and false dichotomy obscured
the variations and potentialities of societies. It was the Rudolph’s contention that the continuities
between tradition and modernity, or the “modernity of tradition”, facilitated rather than impeded
political development. Caste was not an anachronistic social institution, but a vehicle for
incorporating citizens into the democratic polity. Mahatma Gandhi was neither traditional or
modern but rather a political leader who used traditional symbolism to fashion a modern political
movement. The Rudolphs cogently observed that the crude analytical categories and synchronic
comparisons which were characteristic of political science in the 1960s were insensitive to the
dynamics of political change. While their analysis is open to the criticism that the dialectic of
tradition and modernity that they posited understated the problems of political development, their
analytical framework was one of the first to suggest that political development, rather than
diminishing the salience of caste and religion, might perpetuate or increase it.
Paul Brass’s Language, Religion and Politics in North India (1974) further advanced our
understanding of political development by disabusing political scientists of the notion that
modern democratic polities were confronted with a choice between cultural amalgamation or
political secession. By distinguishing between political integration from nationalism, Brass
demonstrated that multiple nationalisms or sub-nationalisms could coexist within a single state.
His study of Sikh nationalism, in particular, showed political parties, rather than exacerbating
conflict among nationalities, can help to accommodate ethic conflict either by accommodating
different nationalities within their organization or by entering into alliances with other parties
representing different ethnic groups. Furthermore, he demonstrated that states have a range of
policy alternatives to accommodate subnationalisms. Brass’s study of India advanced our
understanding of the possibilities and prospects for multinational states.
Brass’s analysis contains an ingenuous research design that enabled him to advance an
important model of ethnic/religious mobilization. By examining the abortive Maithili regional
movement, the successful Sikh mobilization to establish a Sikh majority state, and the
permutations of Muslim politics in Northern India, Brass is able to develop a sophisticated theory
of ethnic mobilization that was a major contribution to the field. He levels a profound criticism
of primordialist views of ethnicity by arguing that the “objective marks of group identity, such as
language or religion are not ‘givens’ … but are themselves subject to variation.” (p. 45) Brass
stressed the agency of elites in constructing ethnic identity. He contends that elites initiate ethnic
movements by attaching symbolic value to certain objective characteristics of a group. They
create a myth of group history or destiny, and they communicate that myth to the defined
population (pp. 43-44). In contrast to prevalent theories at the time (e.g. Deutsch 1966), politics
plays a central role in constructing ethnic identity. In his view, political organizations to do not
arise spontaneously to reflect the demands of ethnic groups, rather they often precede the
existence of group identity and play a critical role in shaping it (p. 38) Elites use different
symbols in attempts to mobilize support, and ethnic mobilization often become part of a multi-layered struggle for power — the outcome of which affects ethnic identity and culture.
Additionally, Brass found that public policy plays an important role in affecting identities and
In later work, Brass (1985, 1991) added to our understanding of ethnic conflict by
highlighting the role of the state in ethnic conflicts. He asserted that the state is an important
factor in ethnic conflict. Brass argued that modernizing states, through their promotion of
secularism, centralization, meritocracy, and democracy, pose a threat to local elites that can spur
them to mobilize their communities. The state also may incite conflict because its programs in
effect distribute resources among different social groups, and the leaders of some groups may
protest inequities in the resource distribution by the state. Finally, the state often becomes an
object of struggle because is it a source of limited resources — jobs, revenues, education,
legitimation of values,etc. — that are sought after by different ethnic groups. Brass’s study of the
role of the state in ethnic conflict contributed to the development of institutionalist approaches to
politics that have gained currency among social scientists in the last decade (Evans,
Reuschemeyer and Skocpol 1985; Steinmo, Thelen, and Longstreet 1992).
Brass’s (1997) most recent work on communal violence is a logical extension of his work
on ethnic conflict. He observes the multiplicity of interpretations of communal violence makes it
virtually impossible to arrive at an “objective” understanding of what are ambiguous events to
begin with. The search for objective understanding, according to Brass, misses the most
important point. Different interpretations of events are constructed by various political interests.
Indeed, Brass regards communal violence as profoundly political, not simply in the sense that
they involve a politics of meaning, but also because their incidence is a consequence of political
agency and therefore can generally be prevented. Despite criticizing ecological explanations,
Brass asserts that communal violence occurs at sites where there are “institutionalized riot
systems,” political actors with vested interests turning local conflict into communal violence, and
failures of local and state authorities to act decisively to prevent the transformation. Brass’s
discussion of the politics of interpretation not only adds to our understanding of communal
violence in India, but it also contributes to recent literature on the framing of social movements
(McAdam, et al. 1996).
The study of Indian political parties has also contributed to better understandings of
parties in the broader discipline of political science. The personalistic nature of India’s parties
have served a useful purpose in limiting generalizations based on observations from
industrialized societies. For instance, Myron Weiner (1957) argues that the personalistic basis of
party organization makes India’s party system a counter-example to Duverger’s law (1954),
according to which first past the post elections produce two-party system. Similarly, Brass draws
from the Indian experience to counter prevalent arguments that political instability in party
systems arises from ideological claims made by political parties with disciplined organizations
and strong ties to different groups of supporters. In India, Brass shows that indisciplined party
organizations, lack of institutionalized ties to various social groups, and consequently defections
from parties is the primary source of instability. In addition, he takes on Samuel Huntington’s
(1968) argument that political instability is caused by institutional decay in the face of rapid
social mobilization by showing that in India it was in the areas of rapid mobilization where party
institutions are strongest.
Myron Weiner’s (1965, 1967) study of the Congress party incited him to be an early
proponent of the position that effective political parties can insulate democratic institutions from
political instability. Brass (1974) later showed that political parties can play an important role in
accommodating the demands of ethnic groups. Arend Lijphart (1996) uses the Indian experience
to extend his theory of consociational democracy. He asserts that the Indian case illustrates how
power sharing arrangements in pluralistic societies, usually reached through accommodations
between parties, can be achieved within the organization of single parties.
There is an irony to exalting the virtues of the Congress party in face of its steady decline
over the last decade. Atul Kohli (1990), used his incisive study of Congress party decay to
develop an alternative perspective to those who have argued that centralization of power
enhances its efficacy (e.g. Haggard 1990). Kohli demonstrated how centralization of power
within the Congress (I) and the central government ultimately landed Rajiv Gandhi in a situation
of powerlessness. This insight contributed to the recent reassessment of institutionalist
perspective based on the realization that linkages to society rather than diminishing state
autonomy and power can play an important role in enhancing state capacity to achieve its policy
objectives. (Evans 1995, Migdal et al 1994, Echeverri-Gent 1993).
Although the study of Indian politics is a formidable challenge for American political
scientists, it has produced substantial rewards. While Americans’ far-ranging research on Indian
politics has made an important contribution to advance the general understanding of Indian
politics, the breadth and depth of knowledge gained through the study of Indian politics has
enabled these observers of American politics to add insights to the development of the field of
comparative politics. In particular, the study of Indian politics has been fruitful in its
contributions to the fields of political development, ethnic and religious conflict, and political
Indian politics and the discipline of political science have undergone important changes
in recent years. These changes have generated new potential synergies in the study of Indian
politics. The decline of the Congress party and the fragmentation of India’s party system has
created ample scope for applying recent theoretical developments in the study of political
coalitions (Laver and Shepsle 1996, Mershon 1996, Enelow and Hinich 1990, Strom, 1990) to
analyze the new dynamics of India’s partisan competition. India’s budget has become the most
important forum for economic policy statements during the period of economic reform, but there
has been very little study of the politics of the budgetary process in India. Study of budgetary
politics has been quite extensive in the United States (Wildavsky and Caiden 1997, Schick 1990,
Savage 1988) and the theoretical insights of studies offer possible departure points for analyzing
India’s budgetary process.
One of the most important theoretical trends among American political scientists has been
renewed interest in the study of political institutions (Shepsle and Weingast 1995, Steinmo et al.,
1992, March and Olson 1989, and Evans et al. 1985). From the perspective of this “new
institutionalism”, many important India’s political institutions are greatly understudied. There
remains substantial scope for theoretically informed study of well-established institution’s like
Parliament, the Prime Minister’s office, the police among others.
Recent transformations in the Indian state have created a new set of institutions that
remain largely unstudied. We are witnessing a transformation in the regulation of the Indian
economy as direct government intervention is curtailed and more independent regulatory
agencies are created. New agencies like the Stock Exchange Bureau of India do not intervene to
determine market outcomes as did the old regulatory agencies but instead regulate the procedures
of market transactions. American experience with economic deregulation and re-regulation
(Mucciaroni 1995, Derthick and Quirk 1985) and roughly comparable independent regulatory
agencies may provide American scholars with the intellectual resources to advance our
understanding of India’s new regulatory institutions.
At the same time new institutions are being established, old institutional arrangements are
being transformed. Indian federalism is of particular interest in this regard. As economic reform
limits economic intervention by the central government, it enhances the relative importance of
provincial governments in providing infrastructure, attracting domestic and foreign investment,
and implementing social sector programs such as primary health and education. Greater capital
mobility increasingly pits India’s states in competition with one another. Will this competition
result in more efficient state government or beggar thy neighbor inter-state competition? The
ongoing exploration of these issues in the American context (Weingast 1995, Brace 1993,
Eisinger, 1988, and Foster 1988) may give political scientists for the United States a distinctive
perspective to contribute to discussion of India’s changing federalism.
By bringing a comparative perspective to the study of Indian politics, American political
scientists have drawn interesting parallels between politics in India, the United States and other
countries. Their comparative work also has enabled them to better understand what is distinctive
about Indian politics. During the last fifty years, the work of American political scientists has
added to our understanding of Indian politics and enriched the broader discipline of political
science. Given the knowledge base that has already accumulated, the next fifty years promise
more extensive and even deeper insights.
List of Works Cited
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Paul H. Appleby, Public Administration in India Report of a Survey, Delhi: Manager of Publications, Government
of India 1953.
Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of A Nation Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.
Ross Babbage and Sandy Gordon (eds.) India’s Strategic Future: Regional State or Global Power? New York: St. Martins, 1992.
William J. Barnds, 1972, India, Pakistan and the Great Powers. New York: Praeger, 1972.
Marguerite Ross Barnett. Electoral Politics in the Indian States: Party Systems and Cleavages. Delhi: Manohar, 1975.
Marguerite Ross Barnett, The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India. Princeton: Princeton University
Amrita Basu, Two Faces of Protest: Contrasting Modes of Women’s Activism in India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
Craig Baxter, The Jana Sangh: A Biography of an Indian Political Party. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Craig Baxter, District Voting Trends in India: A Research Tool. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
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