Book review: Devesh Kapur, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Milan Vaishnav, eds. Rethinking Public Institutions in India

Date01 December 2019
AuthorAjay K. Mehra
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterBook Reviews
14INP874918_F.indd Book Reviews
Studies in Indian Politics
7(2) 281–287, 2019
© 2019 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
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DOI: 10.1177/2321023019874918
Devesh Kapur, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Milan Vaishnav, eds. Rethinking Public Institutions in India.
New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press. 2017. 527 pages. `995.
This second attempt—the first attempt was made by the first two editors in 2005 Public Institutions in
India: Performance and Design—to critically review the capacity and performance of 11 public
institutions by a team of the same editors plus one is informative and analytical.
A cogent editorial introduction candidly admits a huge gap in Indian institutions’ governing capacity
to cope with the popular aspirations of the twenty-first century as well as developmental challenges—
both leftovers from the past and new emerging ones. The editors caution that the key institutions of the
Indian polity have not kept pace with the multiple transformations taking place in the country.
This volume begins with three chapters reviewing the presidency, the Parliament and the Supreme
Court. The next three chapters evaluate the institutions of economic governance (the Reserve Bank of
India); those entrusted with governing expenditure (such as Planning Commission and its heir NITI
Aayog) and new agencies regulating infrastructure development. There are chapters that analyze the
functioning of institutions of internal and financial accountability; the Civil Service and the Election
Commission of India (ECI). The volume concludes with a discussion of local government.
James Manor’s analysis of the Presidency is comprehensive and nuanced. Interestingly, it is an office
where the constitutional election takes place following a political selection, but once in office, the incumbent
is expected to act apolitically. Constitutionally mandated to work only on the advice of the Council of
Ministers led by the prime minister, a strong leader in the office, such as President Dr. Rajendra Prasad,
would have...

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