Gov 1255 The Politics of India

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Gov 1255

The Politics of India

Fall 2009

Instructor: Prerna Singh TF: Jennifer Brea

Office hours: Tues & Thurs 230-330p.m. or by appointment


Tues. & Thurs. 1:00pm-230 p.m.

Sever Hall 102
In this course we will explore politics in the large and diverse sub-continental country of India. We will discuss themes that are important both to India and to a general study of politics in a developing country. The following questions help organize the course: How does one make sense of democracy in a poor, multi-ethnic setting? How has democratic politics shaped and been shaped by a society divided along numerous cleavages such as caste, class, language and religion? How well has India’s democratic state fared in promoting development, both economic and social?
In addition to course lectures, students will be expected to complete the weekly readings and to participate in sections. Course grades will be determined by two take-home exams – a midterm (30%) and a final (50%), and by the quality of participation in the sections (20%).
We will be supplementing lectures with regular screenings of Indian films (schedule to be announced).
I also urge you to attend some of the talks in the newly launched Brown-Harvard-MIT Joint Seminar on South Asian Politics (schedule available online at ).

Of special interest will be the talks by Mehta, Jaffrelot and Jayal – all of whose works we will be reading in this course.

There are two core books for this course:

Ramchandra Guha, India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (available at the Coop and on Amazon)

This is a critically acclaimed nationalist account written by a citizen and historian of India. It is targeted at a popular rather than a scholarly audience. As a consequence, despite its intimidating size, it is an easy and enjoyable read. The trade-off is that in order to tell a rich and compelling story, Guha provides more details than you will need for the course. When reading pay less attention to details and more to the over-all argument. You will read most of the book through various weeks. The required readings delineate the sections that are most relevant, but you will eventually get the most out of the book if you read it in its entirety (especially Parts I-IV).

Stuart Corbridge and John Harriss, Reinventing India, 2000

(should become available at the Coop; also available through associated book sellers at Amazon)

A comprehensive but concise introductory volume written by two British political scientists with social democratic leanings.

Part I: Political Change in India (4 weeks)
Week 1: Setting the Stage
I will introduce the course and the main themes in the study of the politics of India. We will briefly examine India before 1947, especially the colonial period focusing on the following questions – Why did the British colonize India? How did the British rule India? Why did they leave? These questions will help us explore some of the implications of colonial rule for post-Independence India. We will also examine the reasons behind the partition of the sub-continent into two states – India and Pakistan – and analyze its implications.
Thurs Sep 3: Introduction

Tue Sep 8: India before Independence

Thurs Sep 10: The Causes and Consequences of the Partition of India
Required readings
Guha: Chapters 1, 2, 3, 6 (pp 1-73, 115-134)

Corbridge and Harriss, Part I: The Invention of Modern India (pp. 1-39)

Introduction’ (pp. i-xxvii) by Sumit Ganguly in The State of India's Democracy, edited by Sumit Ganguly, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Recommended readings
Two views on the causes of Muslim separatism:
Francis Robinson. Nation formation: The Brass thesis and Muslim separatism . Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 1743-9094, Volume 15, Issue 3, 1977, Pages 215 – 230
Paul R. Brass. A reply to Francis Robinson. Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 1743-9094, Volume 15, Issue 3, 1977, Pages 231 – 234
On Gandhi:

Postmoden Gandhi’ in Postmodern Gandhi and other essays by Lloyd and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, University of Chicago Press, 2006.

George Orwell, ‘Reflections on Gandhi’, Partisan Review, January, 1949.

On the historical inheritance of colonial rule:

Sumit Sarkar, ‘Indian Democracy: the historical inheritance’ in Kohli (ed.) The Success of India’s Democracy, 2002.

A broader historical overview:

Burton Stein, A History of India, Blackwell, 1998.

Week 2: Nehru’s India
The focus this week will be on political changes in India during the Nehru years. For sections come prepared to discuss such issues: what factors help explain the consolidation of the nation-state and the routinization of democracy in India; how was the trade off between creating political order and creating an effective developmental state resolved in India; and what significant problems did Nehru fail to address.
Tue Sep 15: The Task of State Building

Th Sep 17: The Challenge of State Consolidation
Required readings
Guha :Chapters 7, 8, 9 (pp. 137-209)

: Section III of Chapter 16 (pp. 346-349)

Corbridge and Harriss: Chapter 3 (pp. 43-66)
Bipin Chandra, India After Independence (1947-2000), Penguin 2002:

Chapters 6, 7, 11 (pp. 68-97, 131-148)

Recommended readings

Nehru “explains” India to an American Audience:

Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘The Unity of India, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Jan., 1938), pp. 231-243

Stable URL:

On Nehru:

Sunil Khilnani, ‘Nehru's Faith’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 48 (Nov. 30 - Dec. 6, 2002), pp. 4793-4799. Stable URL:

Week 3: “Indira is India, India is Indira”
This week we will focus mainly on the challenges to Indian democracy that emerged during Indira Gandhi’s rule, and on how she responded to them, usually by centralizing power in her person. We will seek to understand the following questions: Was Indira Gandhi more a cause or a consequence of the deinstitutionalization of Indian politics? Was her early radicalism mainly political opportunism? How might we understand her subsequent conservative turn? We will also briefly compare the nature of Indira’s tenure in power with that of her father’s.

Tue Sep 22: The Early Years: Looking Left & Personalizing Power

Thurs Sep 24: The Later Years: A Turn to the Right;

: Not in the Name of the Father: The Implications of Indira
Required readings

Guha :Sections I and II of Chapter 18 (pp. 389-393)

:Sections I, II and VIII of Chapter 19 (pp. 417-420, 433-444 )

:Chapters 20, 21, 22 (pp. 445-490)

:Sections I, II and VI of Chapter 23 (pp. 542-546, 552-568)
Corbridge and Harriss: pp.67-92
Ashis Nandy “Indira Gandhi and the Culture of Indian Politics”, pp. 112-30 in At the Edge of Psychology: Essays in Politics and Culture. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1980.
Recommended readings
Comparing India’s Political Leaders:

Henry Hart, “Political Leadership in India,” (pp. 18-61) in Atul Kohli, ed., India’s Democracy, 1988.

A Biography of Indira by her closest friend:

Pupul Jayakar, Indira Gandhi: An Intimate Biography, 1992.

Week 4: Contemporary India, 1985-2006
We will review the political changes over the last two decades, especially growing political fragmentation, the emergence of business power as well as the rise of a right wing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. For discussion in sections, focus on the following questions: What is the nature of the numerous challenges to central control that have emerged in recent years? How does one best understand the reemergence of communal politics? In spite of a variety of destabilizing movements, why does Indian democracy still appear relatively secure?
Tue 29 Sep: From One to Many: Decline of the Congress & Rise of New Parties

Thurs 1 Oct: Mandal & Mandir: Caste & Religion Take Center Stage

Required readings
Corbridge and Harriss: 93-142, 173-230

Guha: Section VI (pp. 580-583), Section X (pp. 588- 593) of Chapter 25.

Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, ‘Congress learns to Lose’ (p.15-39) in Edward Friedman and Joseph Wong, eds., Political Transitions in Dominant Party Systems: Learning to Lose, New York, Routledge, 2008

Recommended readings
David E. Ludden. Contesting the nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India. 1996.


Thomas Blom Hansen, Saffron Wave, 1999.

Pratap Mehta, The Burden of Democracy, 2003.
Bimal Jalan, The Future of India, 2005.
Part II: State and Society (4 weeks)
Week 5: State Institutions
The focus of our study this week will be the political and bureaucratic institutions of the Indian state. In addition to understanding the basic architecture of the Indian state, come prepared to discuss the following questions in sections: How well have parliamentary institutions adapted to a social context that is (or was) arguably not very democratic? How and why does India’s federalism work? What role does the judiciary play in India? What role have India’s bureaucrats played in consolidating the authority and expanding the capacity of the state? In contrast to Pakistan, why has India’s military not intervened in civilian government?
Tue Oct 6: Political Institutions; Parliament, Federalism and Local Self Governance

Thurs Oct 8: Judiciary, Bureaucracy and the Army
Required readings
An Overview:

Paul Brass, ‘Patterns and Structure of Government’, p.45-66 in The Politics of India since Independence, 1990.


Jyotirindra Das Gupta, ‘India’s Federal Design and multicultural national construction’ in Kohli (ed.), pp.39-78

Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, ‘Old and New Federalism’ in Paul Brass (ed), Handbook of South Asian Politics, Routledge, 2009.
Local government:

Subrata K. Mitra, ‘Making local government work’ in Kohli (ed.), The Success of India’s Democracy.


Shylashri Shankar, ‘India’s Judiciary: Imperium in Imperio?’ in Paul Brass (ed), Handbook of South Asian Politics, Routledge, 2009.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta,The Rise of Judicial Sovereignty’, Journal of Democracy - Volume 18, Number 2, April 2007, pp. 70-83

Stephen P. Cohen, ‘The Military and Indian Democracy’ in Atul Kohli (ed.) India’s Democracy (Oriental Longman 1990), pp. 99-143.

Recommended readings
Stephen Cohen, The Indian Army, 1971.
David Potter, India’s Political Administrators, 1996.
Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution, 1966.
Week 6: Political Parties
The focus this week will be on the changes in the main national parties, especially the Congress, the BJP and the Communist parties, as well as on the recent rise of regional and lower caste parties in the new, more diverse and fragmented political arena. For section discussions come prepared to discuss: How has the Congress party has been transformed in recent decades and how can one explain the emergence of the BJP.
Tue Oct 13: The Decline of the Congress & the Rise of the BJP

Thurs Oct 15: Left, Regional & Lower Caste Parties
Required reading
Paul Brass, The Politics of India Since Independence: Chapter 3: Parties and Politics: pp. 67-104.
Christophe Jaffrelot. ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1-24) in Hindu Nationalism: A Reader (Permanent Black 2007).
Amrita Basu, ‘The Dialectics of Hindu nationalism’ in Kohli (ed.) pp. 163-189.
Manali Desai, “Party Formation, Political Power, and the Capacity for Reform,” Social Forces, 80 (1), 37-60.
Ashutosh Varshney. Is India Becoming More Democratic?. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 3-25

James Manor, ‘Regional parties in federal systems: India in comparative perspective’ in Arora and Verney (1995), Multiple Identities in a Single State, pp. 105-135.

Pradeep Chhibber and Ken Kollman, ‘Party Aggregation and the Number of Parties in India and the United States’, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 92, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 329-342

Mahesh Rangarajan, Decline of India's political leviathans, BBC World.

Jeremy Kahn, India’s Anti-Obama, Newsweek, April 27, 2009.

Recommended readings
Myron Weiner, Party Building in a New Nation: The Indian National Congress, 1967.
Atul Kohli, Democracy and Discontent, 1991.
Kanchan Chandra, The Transformation of Ethnic Politics in India: The Decline of Congress and the Rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Hoshiarpur , The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 26-61
Week 7: Caste and Class
The focus in this and the next week will shift away from political institutions and towards a variety of social forces that impinge upon Indian democracy. In this week we will discuss the changes in the politics of caste through the post-Independence decades, specially the rise of lower caste movements in North India in the past couple of decades. We will also review mobilization along class lines, thinking in particular about why in spite of enormous poverty and inequality, India has not experienced more class revolts.
Tue Oct 20: Caste

Thu Oct 22: Class
Required readings

On Caste:

Christophe Jaffrelot, ‘Caste and the Rise of Marginalized Groups’ (pp. 67-88) in The State of India's Democracy, edited by Sumit Ganguly, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Yogendra Yadav, ‘Understanding the Second Democratic Upsurge’ in Transforming India: Social and Political Dynamics of Democracy, edited by Francine Frankel, Zoya Hasan, Rajeev Bhargava and Balveer Arora (Oxford University Press 2000).
Gurpreet Mahajan, ‘Reservations’, forthcoming in The Handbook of Indian Politics, edited by Atul Kohli and Prerna Singh (Routledge 2010).
On Class:
Ron Herring, ‘Class Politics in India: Euphemization, Voting, and Power’, forthcoming in The Handbook of Indian Politics, edited by Atul Kohli and Prerna Singh (Routledge 2010).
Patrick Heller, “Degrees of Democracy,” World Politics, 52 (4) 2000, 484-519
Recommended reading
On Caste:

Myron Weiner, The Struggle for Equality: Caste in Indian Politics in Kohli (ed.), The Success of India’s Democarcy. pp. 193-225.

On Class:

Vivek Chibber, ‘From Class Compromise to Class Accommodation: Labor’s Accommodation in to the Indian Political Economy’ in Raka Ray & Mary Katzenstein (eds.) Social movements in India: poverty, power, and politics

Week 8: Social Movements
This week we will examine social movements around the protection of the environment, women’s rights as well as gay rights. The latter is a very topical issue in light of a recent ruling by the Delhi High court that repealed a centuries old British colonial law that banned homosexuality (see NY Times article in readings). We will have an opportunity to discuss the implications of this landmark judgment and the issue of gay rights, more generally, with our guest speaker Marcus Elridge, who is pursuing a J.D. at Harvard Law School and spent the summer in India working on sexual minority rights in India.
Tue Oct 27: The Fight for the Environment, Women’s and Gay Rights

: Discussion with Marcus Elridge on Gay Rights in India
Required readings:
Madhav Gadgil and Ramchandra Guha, ‘Ecological Conflicts and the Environment Movement in India’, Development and Change (1994), vol. 25, pp. 101-136.
Bina Agarwal, ‘The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons from India’. Feminist Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 119-158
Women’s movements:
Urvashi Butalia. The women’s movement in India: Action and reflection (

Anandi Collective, The Dalit Women's Movement in India. Development, Volume 52, Number 2, June 2009, pp. 208-214(7)

Radha Kumar, ‘From Chipko to sati: the contemporary Indian women's movement’
in ‘The challenge of local feminisms: women's movements in global perspective’, edited by Amrita Basu. Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1995, pp. 58-86.

Gay Rights movement:

Introduction’ (pp. 1-30) in ‘Because I have a Voice’ by Arvind Narrain and Gautam Bhan (2005).

Indian Court Overturns Gay Sex Ban, New York Times (

Recommended Readings:

On the Environment:

P.P. Karan, Environmental Movements in India in ‘The Geographical Review’, Vol. 84, 1994.

On Civil Society:

Niraja Gopal Jayal, ‘The Role of Civil Society’ in The State of India's Democracy, edited by Sumit Ganguly, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

On Dams:

Arundhati Roy, The Greater Common Good.

[A popular but controversial article on the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Big Dams, in general, by the Booker prize winning author and activist]

On Women’s Movements:

Radha Kumar. The history of doing : an illustrated account of movements for women's rights and feminism in India, 1800-1990, London ; New York : Verso, 1993.

On the Fight for Gay Rights:

Arvind Narain, ‘Challenging the anti sodomy law in India: Story of a continuing struggle’, Forthcoming in Guatam Bhan et. al, Queer perspectives on the law, Yoda Press  2009 (Available on request).

Brinda Bose and Subhabrata Bhattacharya (eds.) ‘The Phobic and the Erotic: The Politics of Sexualities in Contemporary India’, Seagull Books. 2007

Th Oct 29: Discussion Class: Bring your questions.

Mid-term examination distributed after class.

Midterm examination due by midnight of Monday, 2 November.

Week 9: Ethnicity and Identity Politics
This week we will examine two kinds of ethnic conflict that have racked India. First, we will discuss Hindu-Muslim riots. We will focus, in particular, on three influential but different explanations that have been proposed to explain the puzzle of why some cities/ states have witnessed frequent Hindu-Muslim conflict while others have remained relatively peaceful. Next we will examine demands for territorial autonomy/ secession in various regions of India. We will seek to understand why these demands were made and why some have been successfully accommodated, while others have not.
Tue Nov 3: Hindu-Muslim violence

Wed Nov 5 : Secessionist Conflict
Required reading
Three Perspectives on the Causes of Hindu-Muslim Violence:
Civil Society:

Ashutosh Varshney, “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society” World Politics, April 2001, 362-98.

Political Competition:

Steven Wilkinson. Chapter 1 (pp.1-16): The Electoral Incentives for Ethnic Violence in Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Communal Riots in India (2004).


Paul Brass, ‘Explaining Communal Violence’ in The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India (Oxford University Press: 2003), pp. 5-39.

On Secessionist Conflict:

Subrata K. Mitra. The Rational Politics of Cultural Nationalism: Subnational Movements of South Asia in Comparative Perspective. British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 57-77

Stable URL:

On Kashmir:

Sumit Ganguly, Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilization and Institutional Decay, International Security, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 76-107

Ashutosh Varshney, India, Pakistan, and Kashmir: Antinomies of Nationalism , Asian Survey, Vol. 31, No. 11 (Nov., 1991), pp. 997-1019

On Punjab:

Paul Brass, “The Punjab Crisis and the Unity of India” in Atul Kohli (ed.) India’s Democracy (Oriental Longman 1990), pp. 169-213.

On the North-East:

Guha: Chapter 13: Tribal Trouble, pp.267-287.

Recommended reading
Ashutosh Varshney, Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life, 2002.
A Response to Varshney :

Kanchan Chandra. ‘Civic Life or Economic Interdependence?’ Commonwealth and Comparative Politics Vol 39 (1), 2001: 110-118.

Steven Wilkinson, Votes and Violence, 2004.
Kanchan Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed, 2004.
Paul Brass, Theft of an Idol: Text and Context in the Representation of Collective Violence. 1997.
Atul Kohli, “Can Democracies Accommodate Ethnic Nationalism?”, Journal of Asian Studies, 56 (2), 1997, 323-44
Part III: Political Economy (1.5 weeks)
Week 10 & 10.5: Economic & Social Development
The focus of the next one and a half weeks will be on understanding India’s economic and social development. In the first lecture, we will discuss the origins, institutionalization and the performance of India’s statist model of economic development. For discussion consider the following questions: Why did India adopt a highly statist model of development? What were the main achievements and failures of this chosen strategy of change?
India’s economy has grown fairly rapidly since about 1980. In the second lecture, we will focus on the political underpinnings of this economic change. Discussions in sections might include such issues as: How does one evaluate India’s economic liberalization? How does a statist interpretation of growth acceleration in India differ from a neoliberal one? In the third lecture, we will shift our attention to questions of equity and human development. We will examine India’s generally dismal record of public goods provision but also try to understand why in a national context of severe social deprivation, some provinces, most famously Kerala have been able to achieve high levels of social development.
Tue Nov 10: Statist Model of Economic Development

Th Nov 12: The Politics of Rapid Economic Growth

Tu Nov 17: Poverty & Public Goods Provision
Required readings
The Statist Model of Economic Development:
Atul Kohli, State Directed Development, 257-88.

Guha: Chapter 10: The Conquest of Nature, pp.209-232.

The Politics of Rapid Economic Growth:
Corbridge and Harriss 143-72

Atul Kohli, “Politics of Economic Growth in India,” Economic and Political Weekly, April 1 and 8, 2006, 1251-59, 1361-70.

Poverty & Public Goods Provision:
Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, India: Development and Participation 2002, pp. 143-88, 229-74.
Prerna Singh, We-ness and Welfare: Social Development in Kerala, World Development (forthcoming in 2010).
Recommended readings:
Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze, “Poverty and Inequality in India,” Economic and Political Weekly, Sept. 7, 2002, 3729-48.
Isher Ahluwalia, “Indian Economy” in Alyssa Ayres and Philip Oldenburg, India Briefing, 2005, 45-80
Dani Rodrik and Arvind Subramanian, 2004 “From ‘Hindu Growth’ to Productivity Surge,” 2004. Unpublished manuscript, March (available on request; also available on Rodrik’s web site).
Baldev Raj Nayar, India’s Mixed Economy, 1989.
Rob Jenkins, Democratic Politics and Economic Reform in India, 1999.
Jagdish Bhagwati, India in Transition, 1993.
Part IV: India and the World
This week we will move beyond the domestic realm to examine issues in India’s foreign relations. In the first lecture we will examine India’s relations with its neighbors, especially China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and with the world at large, particularly the US, from both a historical and contemporary perspective. The second lecture will be a special guest lecture on India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests by Prof Vipin Narang, who will be joining the Department of Political Science at MIT next year and is an expert on this topic.
Week 11 & 12
Th Nov 19: India’s Foreign Relations

Tu Nov 24: The Bomb: Guest lecture by Prof Vipin Narang, MIT.
India’s foreign relations:

Guha: Chapter 8: Home and the World, pp.160-189.

: Chapter 13: The Experience of Defeat, pp. 306-341

: Sections I, II, III in Chapter 14: Peace in our Time, pp. 342-346.

On the implications of the Nuclear Tests:

Sumit Ganguly, Nuclear Stability in South Asia, International Security Fall 2008, Vol. 33, No. 2: 45–70.

S. Paul Kapur, Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia, International Security Fall 2008, Vol. 33, No. 2: 71–94.

Part V: Conclusion (1 week).
Week 13: Conclusion
This week we will review the main themes in the course and situate them in the context of the study of the politics of developing, multi-ethnic countries, more generally. We will also explore a range of counterfactuals in Indian history and brainstorm together about what clues a study of India’s past and present might give us about its future.
Tue 1 Dec: Looking Back: A Review of the Main Themes in the Course

: Looking Sideways: What if…?

: Looking Forward: What next?
Thu 3 Dec: Discussion Class: Bring your questions.

Final examination distributed after class.

Final examination due by midnight of Thursday, 10 December.

Required readings:
Guha: Epilogue: Why India Survives

Corbridge and Harriss: 231-40.

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