Book Review: Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India

Date01 June 2013
Published date01 June 2013
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Studies in Indian Politics, 1, 1 (2013): 109–126
Book Reviews 113
winner-take-all electoral system. Despite powerful winds of change, the two true national parties—
Congress and the BJP—continue to occupy two-thirds of India’s chief ministerial posts.
Finally, and interestingly, the authors highlight a fourth transformation: the rise of anti-secular forces
in Indian political society, culminating with (though not restricted to) the BJP’s rise to national power in
1998 on the basis of its Hindutva appeal. In their analysis of the rise of the BJP and its subsequent
electoral fortunes, the authors can hardly contain their disdain for the party’s ‘Hindu chauvinist’ proclivi-
ties. Yet, the authors should be careful not to speak of the BJP as a monolith. The BJP in Bihar, which
serves a junior alliance partner to Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), has had to tame its pro-Hindu
ideology lest it upset the alliance’s ‘caste and communal equation’. Meanwhile Gujarat’s BJP Chief
Minister Narendra Modi has proudly displayed his anti-secular credentials. Ideology aside, the BJP’s
fractured leadership has led to the emergence of powerful state-level party leaders who quite often stray
from the party’s diktats—in contrast to the top-down, dynastic Congress party apparatus.
In their final chapter, Ganguly and Mukherji comment on the challenges (and opportunities) the
future has in store for India’s democratic project. In particular, the authors seize on the mismatch between
the success of participatory democracy and entrepreneurial dynamism on the one hand, and the state’s
institutional shortcomings on the other. The results of this mismatch are disturbing: the rise of Maoist
violence, endemic corruption in the implementation and administration of public policy, and persistent
failures of social service delivery and human development. The authors place their hopes with three pos-
sible change agents: the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and legislative reforms such as the
Right to Information (RTI) Act. While each has its merits, all are showing signs of strain that cast doubt
on the proposition that they will be able to effectively resist the inertia of India’s past. Supreme Court
activism has been essential for improving accountability yet it has been so successful it has produced an
over-burdened apex court and a lopsided judiciary. The Election Commission quite rightly deserves
praise for its admirable dedication to conducting free and fair elections but it has struggled to contain
the rise of ‘money and muscle’ in Indian politics. As the authors point out, the Election Commission
places stringent limits on election expenditures yet politicians and parties continue to brazenly flout the
rules without repercussion. The RTI too has been an invaluable tool for civil society to hold the govern-
ment’s feet to the fire—yet there is a disturbing trend of violence against would-be whistleblowers that
could cast a chill on its future use.
One hopes that when the successor volume to India Since 1980 is written three decades from now, that
book’s authors will be able to include a chapter on India’s institutional ‘revolution’. Short of that, the
progress on other fronts documented so well by Ganguly and Mukherji will be in peril.
Milan Vaishnav
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Atul Kohli, Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, India. 2012.
272 pages. ` 395
DOI: 10.1177/2321023013482794
In the last 25 years, no scholar has contributed more to our understanding of the politics of India’s eco-
nomic development than Atul Kohli. His new book, Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India is a valuable

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