Louise Tillin, Rajeshwari Deshpande and K.K. Kailash (eds), Politics of Welfare: Comparisons across Indian
States. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 2015. 256 pages. `850.
Comparative political studies across Indian states are not new to political science literature. Their
prominent beginnings can be traced back to Myron Weiner and Atul Kohli, but at that time studies of
Indian states were hard to find in the midst of the overwhelming national focus. By the 1990s, there was
a shift towards examining Indian states, with due recognition that financial federalism and the emergence
of regional parties had increased the autonomy of state politicians. The forceful advocacy of interstate
studies came from Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar’s ‘Ten Theses on State Politics in India’ (2008),
which threw the door open for serious engagement. The subsequent work in this evolving space has
opened new avenues for research.
The central theme, cutting across the six comparative state essays in the book, is the interface between
public policy and politics. As the introduction of the book testifies, this is an infrequently studied subject
in the context of not only India but even Europe and the US. As a result, there are few theories the editors
could readily draw upon. They offer a theoretical frame that categorizes states based on welfare
‘performance’, a term that covers the policy chain from policy making to policy implementation. This
conception differs from the predominant view that states are primarily policy implementers and not
policy makers, and in this way broadens the scope for investigating state autonomy. However, as we see
with the book, the ambiguity in the theory leads to inconsistencies in interpretation across essays, which
is a problem.
The book covers a wide territory, with the six paired case studies spanning 11 states or union territories
(one state appears in two essays), and a wide variety of welfare policies including health insurance,
social security, food subsidy, employment guarantee and education. It is, however, difficult to identify a
consistent basis on which the state pairs were selected. The essays may be fitted into three broad types.
The first type compares success stories in two states either with regard to policy modification (K.K.
Kailash and Madurika Rasaratnam) or about how two states delivered on reducing corruption in service
delivery (Rob Jenkins and James Manor). The second type consists of pairwise comparisons between a
well-performing and not-so-well-performing state in terms of either a policy initiative (Rajeshwari
Deshpande) or implementation efficiency (Louisse Tillin, Anupama Saxena and Yatindra Sisodia) or
programme monitoring (Divya Vaid). The essay by Rajesh Dev forms the third type, focusing on the
failings of two states in implementing the ideal of participatory governance.
The essay by Kailash and Rasaratnam presents an engaging comparison of health insurance policy in
Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The broad contours of the policy are drawn at the national level, but the chapter
deals with how the two states manage to tweak the policy to benefit the public health care system.
Studies in Indian Politics
© 2016 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies