Book Review: Himanshu Roy, Mahendra Prasad Singh and A. P. S. Chauhan (eds.), State Politics in India

Date01 December 2018
DOI10.1177/2321023018797780
Published date01 December 2018
AuthorJohn Harriss
Subject MatterBook Reviews
316 Book Reviews
policy, school planning analysts, political researchers of development as well as social science methodology
students would gain substantially from the book.
Radhika Menon
Assistant Professor, Mata Sundri College
University of Delhi, Delhi
E-mail: radhikamenon1@gmail.com
Himanshu Roy, Mahendra Prasad Singh and A. P. S. Chauhan (eds.), State Politics in India. New Delhi:
Primus Books. 2017. 931 pages. `2095.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023018797780
The efforts of the three editors and many contributors to provide an account, in this book, of the politics
of 27 of the 29 states of India and the two principal union territories (Delhi and Puducherry) is heroic
and, I believe, without precedent. (Only Himachal Pradesh is missing, and the preparation of the book
evidently preceded the formation of Telangana.) The effort is certainly important given, on the one hand,
the increased importance of the arena of state politics in India over the last three decades, when ‘multi-
party pluralism and regionalism … have enhanced the role and autonomy of state governments’ (p. 12),
and on the other, the fact that ‘the study of state politics [has] remained a rather under-cultivated field
of enquiry’ (p. 1). What is especially to be welcomed in the book are the generally careful and
richly informative studies of the states of the Northeast, which have rarely, if ever, been included in the
comparative studies of Indian states. Reading together, these chapters provide a fine analysis of the
political sociology of the region.
The Introduction to the book, by Mahendra Prasad Singh, discusses the principal arguments of the
significant earlier attempts by different authors to compare the politics of Indian states, starting with the
collection edited by Myron Weiner, published in 1968, and concluding with the typology proposed by
Atul Kohli in Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India, of 2012. None of these books or articles is as
ambitious as the volume under review, in terms of coverage. Singh, in the Introduction, then sets out a
framework—worked out by the authors at two preparatory conferences—which, it seems, the different
contributors were asked to refer to in their accounts. The aim is that of explaining the state-level variations
in the five processes that are held to characterize politics in India in general— democratization,
multicultural secularization, federalization, economic liberalization and sustainable development. These
five factors are then held to be explanatory variables: geography and history; demography, culture and
social capital; political economy ‘with foci on macro-economic sectors and class structure’; patterns of
state party systems and social and political movements; and the quality of political leadership. Singh
concludes, however, that ‘the crucial problematique’ is that of ‘state capability’, or ‘the ability of
government to achieve the objectives that it sets for itself’ (p. 26). Whether state capability is explicans
or explicandum is not entirely clear. But it does not matter much for the book, since the authors of the
various individual studies rarely make reference to it.
The different chapters are of varying length, from a mere 16 pages on Maharashtra to more than
50 on West Bengal, and they vary considerably both in terms of the extent to which the different authors
have sought to discuss the existing literature on the state in question and how far the analysis offered has
been brought up to date. The reader forms the impression that the texts must have been completed several
years ago, and that they have been hastily updated, if at all. The account given of the politics of Tamil
Nadu, for instance, makes no reference to the substantial work of Andrew Wyatt on political parties,

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