Resizing the State

What if the Indian state is actually not big enough?

01 October 2012
Although India can conduct elections for more than 750 million people, the state’s ability to deliver services remains lacking.
MAHESH KUMAR A / AP PHOTO
Although India can conduct elections for more than 750 million people, the state’s ability to deliver services remains lacking.
MAHESH KUMAR A / AP PHOTO

IT IS SOMETHING OF AN UNDERSTATEMENT to say that the state of the Indian state is unwell. In recent years, India’s governance institutions have acquitted themselves poorly. By now, the list of scams involving government’s abuse of its discretionary authority rolls off the tongue with relative ease: Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing Society, 2G, Coalgate.

These, of course, are merely the scandals that have captured widespread media and popular attention. There is a seemingly endless roster of B-list scams that have enjoyed their own 15 minutes of fame: Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda amassing illicit wealth equal to one-fifth of his state’s budget; YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s “pay-for-play” method to recruit backers for family businesses in Andhra Pradesh; or the massive rural health mission fraud in Uttar Pradesh under Mayawati. And this is just a short list from a sample of notable chief ministers.

In light of such spectacular corruption, it comes as no surprise that commentators have written extensively—and unflatteringly—about the failings of the Indian state. But despite our inclination to focus on the short-term failures of the Indian state, this is both an endemic issue and an existential one. Much as we feel the need to blame the state, and to devise ways of restraining its power in order to minimise these abuses, we need to acknowledge an inconvenient truth: while the Indian state may be the problem, it is also a principal element of the solution.

Milan Vaishnav is an associate in the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.

Keywords: India corruption government scams state service delivery institutions
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