Prof. James Manor speaking at the department of political science; Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel)
Prof. James Manor speaking at the department of political science; Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel)

Prof. James Manor From the UK Speaks at Jamia on “The Best and the Worst of Indian State”

The Department of Political Science on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012, organized a talk by Prof. James Manor, a renowned professor from London, on the topic, “The Best & the worst of Indian State.”

About the Speaker

Prof. James Manor speaking at the department of political science; Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 (Photo: Khalid Jaleel)

James Manor teaches at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. After completing his BA degree from Yale Unversity, he got a D.Phil from the University of Sussex. He co-authored “Against the Odds: Politicians, Institutions and the Struggle against Poverty” with N. Ng’ethe and M. Melo. His ‘Prologue’ features in the new edition of Rajni Kothari edited “Caste in Indian Politics”. He has also contributed an article titled “Local Government” in Niraja Jayal and P.B. Mehta edited “The Oxford Companion to Indian Politics.”

The Best of the Indian State

Prof. Manor began his talk with describing the Indian state with the timeless words of Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” Thereafter, he commenced drawing two lists, one featuring the best and worst of the Indian state.

“When we read or hear about India today, we encounter radically different messages. People no longer say that India is shining. They stopped saying that after the 2004 elections. But what we do hear is that India is on a roll today. The economy is surging,” he said.

The Indian state today, he said, is more constructive and more responsive than ever before. However, he also said that India is experiencing ruination and corruption on a persistent scale.

“What if both were true at the same time?” he questioned. To understand the Indian state today more vividly, he said, we must recognize that both the good and the bad that people talk about India are true at the same time. “What we see today are not so much contradictions but incongruities,” he clarified.

Prof. Manor explained that the best and the worst feautures of the Indian state sit side by side and co-exist uneasily together. These incongruities might not be resolved anytime soon.

Before reading out the features of Indian state which made it to the best list, Prof. Manor stated that one needs to set aside exaggerations that people often make about the best things, and that cheerleaders often overlook some of the best things. For instance, he said, in the 2004 parliamentary elections, it was said that UPA was swept to power by the vote of the rural poor. “This turned out to be total rubbish because UPA got more support from the prosperous groups than from poor people.”

Amongst the features that Prof. Manor put on his best list, he first talked about the trend towards redistribution of power since 1989 in the Indian political system. “This is a good thing because it has made it possible to rebuilt political institutions,” he said. Since 1989, it had been impossible for any political party to win a majority in the parliament. This has led to massive redistribution of power in the political system. “Massive power has flown from the once dominated prime minister’s office to other forces and other political systems,” he stated. Power has also flown away from the main political parties in the coalition governments to other parties and it “has flown vertically from the national government down to the state levels.”

Prof. Manor explained that the redistribution of power is very significant for rebuilding and regeneration of political institutions, and to acquire more substance and autonomy for them. This has led to creation of checks and balances to counter abuses of power by Indian prime ministers. “Margarat Thatcher and Tony Blair abused their powers much more than Indian prime ministers have done since 1989,” he stated.

Another good feature of the Indian state is the surge in government revenues.

Liberalization has been conscious and limited in India as compared to other countries, he said, because government authorities in India retain power with them inspite of globalization. This is the reaon why corruption has risen in the country, he articulated, but also the reason for the economic growth.

“Since 2003, the revenues of the state and central governments in India have increased immensely because of economic growth and new methods of revenue collection,” he said. This means that government actors at state and national levels are able to undertake new programmes and strengthen existing ones. “The first UPA government between 2007-09 spent over 57 billion US dollars on poverty programmes alone.”

Between 1980 and mid 2008, anti-incumbency was dominant, he said. “Ruling parties or alliances at state level were thrown out by voters. These are spectacularly high rejections rates by international standards. These rates terrify politicians. But since 2008, the norm has been that ruling parties are re-elected,” he said. With more many to spend, ruling parties were able to maintain their popularity.

Another good feature of the Indian state on his list was the new trend in India that is towards social democratic policies. “It is from this perspective and not from the perspective of neo-liberalism that Narisamha Rao and Manmohan Singh undertook economic liberalization in the 1990s,” he claimed.

Trends towards greater transparency in politics also made it to his ‘best’ list. By citing an example of NREGA, he said that the architects of the programme have inserted powerful transparency mechanisms, “more powerful than any other transparency mechanism for a programme in the world.”

The Worst of the Indian State

Moving onto the ‘worst’ list of the Indian state, Prof. Manor begun by listing political leaders as among the top worst features. “Certain political leaders who have used violence and bigotry are loathsome, but such leaders do not predominate in the Indian political system yet and maybe never will because bigotry is not in popular acceptance,” he said.

Another worst feature of the Indian state is one-man dominance where certain chief ministers radically dominate their political sphere with the help of industrialists, “where one-person government is so strong that MLAs cannot represent and respond to their constituencies.” This is a negative trend. Examples he cited were Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik, Narendra Modi, Karunanidi and Jayalalita.

Increased corruption finds an easy way to be on the worst list by Prof. Manor. “Increased corruption is one of the worst features of the Indian state and there is a good reason for accepting this fact because it has saturated the Indian media since October last year.” He said that corruption does not only mean acquiring money but it also means callous action, and inaction at times. Desire to avoid accountability at all costs also counts as corruption and is “in all political systems right down to gram panchayats.”

Prof. Manor concluded by saying that the good and the bad will continue to exist together. Political scientists need to seek reforms in this very bundle of inter-related tendencies.

Trends towards greater transparency in politics also made it to his ‘best’ list. By citing an example of NREGA, he said that the architects of the programme have inserted powerful transparency mechanisms, “more powerful than any other transparency mechanism for a programme in the world.”

About R. Nithya

R. Nithya (2013) is a special correspondent for Jamia Journal. She can be reached via email at: nithya@jamiajournal.com

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