Working Paper 36
Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Michael Walton
This paper offers an interpretation of India’s recent political economy in relation to the longer-term history since independence. It argues that an understanding of both ideas and interests is required for this interpretation. While politics and policy are often portrayed in terms of a tussle between market-based reform and populist social provisioning, the interpretation here sees more continuity, and the coexistence of such seemingly competing narratives, that reflect the “cognitive maps” of the major actors. The performance of the state, and ideas around the state, remain central to India’s politics. While the theme of a “corrupt state” is a longstanding one, India’s future development will depend crucially on improving state functioning, through both the deepening of democracy and administrative reform. The cognitive maps of political, bureaucratic and business elites will continue to play an important role in policy and institutional designs, and in particular over whether there will be the kinds of transformational changes that are being demanded by an increasingly aspirational electorate.