1. Approaches to the Study of Indian Politics and Nature of the State in India: Liberal, Marxist and Gandhian – Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective


Approaches to the Study of Indian Politics and Nature of the State in India: Liberal, Marxist, and Gandhian


One of the most ancient spheres of intellectual enquiry, politics was originally seen as an arm of philosophy, history and law. Its central purpose was to uncover the principles upon which human society should be based. From the late nineteenth century onwards, however, this philosophical emphasis was gradually displaced by an attempt to turn politics into a scientific discipline. The high point of this development was reached in the 1950s and 1960s, with an open rejection of the earlier tradition as meaningless metaphysics. Since then, however, enthusiasm for a strict science of politics has waned, and there has been a renewed recognition of the enduring importance of political values and normative theories.1

Approaches to Politics

Historical Approach

Before the advent of the 20th century, the study of politics was largely dominated by history, ethics, philosophy and law. A great number of political thinkers, from Plato to Edmund Burke, have used the premises of history, philosophy and law to lay down principles of political theory. In the field of comparative politics as well, the historical approach exerted influence during the late 18th century and the 20th century. In the study of political institutions, in this phase, ‘interest came to be centred primarily among first principles, upon the coming of history, upon the construction of audacious developmental theories, unilinear in form, based on single determining principles’. Best examples of such an approach would be found in the works of Hegel, with his belief in the unfolding of Reason and Freedom and in those of Marx, with his belief in the unfolding of freedom through class conflict.2

Although historicism has since long been discredited, the field of Comparative Politics owes a great deal to this phase in Western social thought. Many of its concepts such as ‘class’ are still used fruitfully. However, on the flip side, ‘their broad-scale theorizing was mainly a matter of abstract and formal speculation upon the broadest conceivable questions. For the canons of accurate observation, they had a monumental disregard. Their data, almost in every case, were invoked merely to illustrate, not to test their theories, so that one searches in vain in their works for a methodologically valid bridge between theory and data.’3

Philosophical Tradition

The origins of political analysis date back to Ancient Greece, and a tradition usually referred to as political philosophy. This involved a preoccupation with essentially ethical, prescriptive or normative questions, reflecting a concern with what ‘should’, ‘ought to’ or ‘must’ be brought about, rather than what ‘is.’ Plato and Aristotle are usually identified as the founding fathers of this tradition which involves the analytical study of ideas, and doctrines that have been central to political thought, as expressed or codified in a collection of ‘major thinkers’ or in ‘classic’ texts. This approach has the character of literary analysis- it is primarily interested in examining what major thinkers said, how they developed or justified their views, and the intellectual context within which they worked. Although such analysis may be carried out critically, and scrupulously, it cannot be objective in any scientific sense, as it deals with normative questions such as ‘why should I obey the state? or ‘how should rewards be distributed?’4

Legal-institutional Approach

The state-centred approach is at once the most traditional and the most fashionable approach to comparative politics. In the early part of the twentieth century, scholars focused their attention on the formal institutions of government.-legislature, executive and judiciary- and the constitutions which governed the relationships between these institutions. The style of these early studies was extremely descriptive. Constitutions and formal organizations of government were examined in legal and historical terms, reflecting the origins of political science in these two disciplines. Informal relationships between political actors went unstudied. Little attention was given to less ‘official’ organizations’ such as pressure groups or the mass media. The wider social context within which government operates was ignored. The approach was also strongly culture bound, confined largely to the study of governments in the United States and Europe. Finally, the style was very uncritical. ‘Perhaps, Webbs’ study of Soviet government in the 1930s represented the ‘summit’ of this approach. This described the formal organization of the Soviet state in minute detail, in the apparent conviction that everything worked as Stalin's propagandists alleged.’5

After 1945, the state-centred or institutional approach became unfashionable. The focus shifted from the state to society. In the 1980s, however, attention returned to the state. ‘Bringing the state back in’ became a rallying-cry in comparative politics (Evans et al.1985).

Partly, this reflected a belated recognition that the baby had been thrown out with the bathwater. After all, the state is the single central concern of political science. Furthermore, the spread of constitutional governments to parts of the second and third world in the 1980s and 1990s meant that constitutions and institutions had become a better guide to the realities of power. However, despite the renewal of interest in the state, today's focus is not so much on institutional detail but on the state as an active agent, shaping and reshaping society. The state is seen as using its administrative capacity, and monopoly of legitimate force to bring about important changes in society. For example, Skocpol showed how successful revolutionaries such as the Russian Bolsheviks, and Iranian Mullahs used their control of the state to produce total transformations of society. Even in the Western world, the large-scale role of the state has enabled it to lead social and economic change. The state has facilitated industrialization, led the development of mass education and helped in creating modern welfare states.6

Systems Approach

The demand for a science of politics peaked in the 1950s and 1960s with the emergence of a form of political analysis heavily influenced by behaviouralism. As the name indicates, behaviouralism studies only the observable and measurable behavior of human beings. This led political analysts such as David Easton to believe that political science could adopt the methodology of the natural sciences. Consequently, there was a proliferation of studies in area like voting behaviour where systematic and quantifiable data were readily available.

Symptomatic of this effort to make study of politics value-free was the switch in the 1960s and 1970s of the focus of comparative politics to examining politics in its social context. The Second World War had stimulated new developments in social science techniques (e.g. attitude surveys) which younger scholars were keen to apply to politics. So, attention shifted away from government institutions to the political system. The political system refers to all the factors which influence collective decisions, even if those factors are not formally parts of the government. Thus, parties, voters and social movements all form part of the system of politics, even though they are rarely mentioned in constitutions and other formal documents. The systematic approach to politics was pioneered by David Easton. According to Easton (1957, 1965a, 1965b), the political system consists of all those institutions and processes which are involved in the ‘authoritative allocation of values’ for society. The political system stakes inputs from society. These consist of (a) demands for particular policies and (b) expressions of support. Supports include compliance with laws and payment of taxes and diffuse support for the regime. The political system converts these inputs into outputs—authoritative policies and decisions. These outputs then feed back to society so as to affect the next cycle of inputs. However, inputs are regulated by gatekeepers such as parties and interest groups, which bias the system in favour of certain demands and against others.

Easton's model helped to move political science away from an exclusive concern with government institutions. However, he achieved this by reducing the state to nothing more than a ‘black box’ in an abstract diagram. Critics also alleged that Easton's model was too static, paying little attention to how political systems change.7

Structural-functional Approach

The structural-functional approach to comparative politics provided another important justification for the switch in emphasis from government to political system. This approach raised the question, ‘even if political systems vary greatly in their institutional arrangements, are there certain functions which any political system must perform if it is to survive and operate effectively’. Almond and Powell (1978, 1988) provided the most important analysis of the functions of political systems. The first three functions—recruitment, socialization and communication—concern the maintenance of the system, while the last four-interest articulation, interest aggregation, policy-making and policy-implementation—relate to the process by which collective decisions are made and implemented. Functionalists argued that a check-list of this kind provided an objective, standardized and culture-free approach to comparative politics. For instance, political recruitment is an essential function in all political systems; however, it is performed by different institutions in different countries. In the first world, elections are a major recruiting agent. In communist states, the ruling party was the key vehicle in recruitment. Once the party had approved a nomination for office, election became a mere formality. In some third world states, personal connections are more significant in recruitment.8

Rational Choice Theory

Among recent theoretical approaches to politics are formal political theory, variously known as ‘political economy,’ ‘public-choice theory’ and ‘rational choice theory.’ This approach draws heavily upon the example of economic theory in building up models based upon procedural rules, usually about the rationally self-interested behaviour of the individuals involved. It provides at least a useful analytical device which may provide insights into the actions of voters, lobbyists, bureaucrats and politicians as well as into the behaviour of states within the international system. Such techniques have been used by writers such as Anthony Downs, Mancur Olson and William Niskanen, in fields such as party competition and interest group behaviour and the policy influence of bureaucrats.

By no means, however, has the rational-choice approach to political analysis been universally accepted.9 While its supporters claim that it introduces greater rigour into the discussion of political phenomena, critics have questioned its basic assumptions. It may, for instance overestimate human rationality in that it ignores the fact that people seldom possess a clear set of preferred goals, and rarely make decisions in the light of full and accurate knowledge.10

Thus the variety of approaches that have come to be adopted for the study of politics as an academic discipline has made political analysis richer and more diverse. To the established normative, institutional and behavioural approaches have been added not only rational-choice theory, but also, more recently, feminism (a struggle for the recognition of the rights of women, for equality between the sexes and for redefinitions of womanhood) and critical theory (refers to the work of the Frankfurt School established in 1923 that was repelled by Stalinism and criticized the deterministic and scientific tendencies in orthodox Marxism, and disillusioned by the failure of Marx's predictions about the inevitable collapse of capitalism.)11

Nature of the Indian State

An interesting historical poser that has engaged the curiosity of political scientists is how much of the structure of the Indian state after independence was inherited from late colonial times? Partha Chatterjee in his article ‘The State,’ in Niraja Gopal Jayal and Pratap Bhanu Mehta's edited book The Oxford Companion to Politics in India, writes that while it is true that the partition of the country into India and Pakistan and the integration of the princely states within India meant a significant reconfiguration of the territorial boundaries drawn in the period of British India, that did not significantly alter the colonial administrative apparatus. The inauguration of the constitutional republic in 1950 did introduce some radically new features into the state structure. First, there was a sovereign legislature elected by direct universal suffrage without communal representation, but with reservations for SCs and STs. Second, there was a constitutionally guaranteed set of fundamental rights of all citizens. The Constitution provided for a parliamentary system of government of the British type with an executive responsible to Parliament, but with an indirectly elected head of state. It also provided for an independent judiciary with certain powers pertaining to the judicial review of laws made by Parliament. The constitution was also federal, with state governments responsible to directly elected state legislatures, but with a distribution of powers between the Union and the states that was heavily inclined towards the Union.12

However, writes Chatterjee, ‘…other than these institutional changes, the basic apparatus of governmental administration in independent India was inherited from the colonial period, despite the huge increase in size. The Indian members of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the much acclaimed steel frame of the British Raj, were retained after independence, but a new Indian Administrative service (IAS), modelled on the ICS, was constituted as its successor. The basic structure and administration of civil and criminal law was also inherited from the colonial period.’

The major difference was of course the creation of a Supreme Court and its position within the new constitutional system. However, the working of the high courts and district courts maintained an unbroken history from colonial times, continuing the same practices of legal tradition and precedence. The Indian armed forces too maintained a continuing history from the colonial period. The British tradition of a professional army strictly under the control of the political leadership was successfully maintained in the period after independence and unlike most other countries, there was not even a joint command of the army, navy and air forces except in the office of the political head of government.13

Liberal Interpretation of the Indian State

The basic principle of modern liberalism is the view that politics is artificial. Government is necessary, but not natural as liberty is the natural human condition. The legitimate ends of government are limited to securing the conditions of all ways of life, and therefore consist largely of the secular goals of peace and prosperity. Hence the modern liberal state is a constitutional one, characterized by the rule of law and toleration for diversity. Both Liberal and Marxist scholars have analysed the nature of the Indian state, from their respective ideological vantage points. The liberal account of the Indian state will be taken up first, followed by the Marxist understanding.

Conspicuous by its absence is the category of ‘state’ in the early liberal discourse on Indian politics. ‘Government’ was rather the preferred category. This may have been in keeping with the traditions of Political science followed in Anglo American countries that focused on the study of government. Contrariwise, Continental European traditions of law and politics, however prefer the term ‘state’, to ‘government’.

However, the late 1970s have seen a conceptual/paradigm shift in Anglo-American Political Science favouring the state. This had a resonance in the recent literature on the liberal perspectives of the Indian state, with an elaborate treatment of the state, and its structure is seen in the works of Rajni Kothari, Llyod and Susanne Rudolph and M.P. Singh.14

Liberal Institutional

Atul Kohli's chief concern is to explain the paradox of the growth of centralization and simultaneous powerlessness at the centre. He writes, ‘Political turmoil not only threatens the prospect for establishing legitimate and coherent authority, but also undermines the government's ability to facilitate socio-economic development.’15

Kohli defines the crisis of governability in India as ‘1. the absence of enduring coalitions, 2. policy ineffectiveness and 3. an incapacity to accommodate political conflict without violence.’ He adds, ‘A government whose power rests on fluctuating coalitions and whose leaders repeatedly fail to fulfill their stated goals and to control politically directed violence will be deemed to be a government with low capacity to govern.’ He refers to the growing disjuncture between centralization and development in the post Nehru era. Centralization might temporarily aggrandize the personal powers of leaders but seriously erodes the legitimacy of the state and its development power.

In his work, ‘Rethinking Democracy,’ Rajni Kothari also rues the decline of the Indian State, which ‘far from being useful to the masses, has led to their further exclusion in a period of economic stagnation and political instability.’ ‘With this erosion in the role of the state,’ writes Kothari, ‘not only the poor but even middle class professional, economic and political strata seem unable to wield authority in a meaningful way. At best, they are pawns in the hands of forces beyond their control…. The decline of the state has led to a sharp decline in the rule of law, a parallel decline in the authority of the elected governing elite and a gradual erosion even in the power of hitherto dominant individuals and social groups such as the upper castes. Alongside, we are witnessing the rise of new fundamentalisms of religious sects and with that the growth in power of organizations like the RSS, VHP and the Jamaate-Islami. The basic result has been growing communalism within secular politics and, as a direct consequence of that, a decline in the politics of socio-economic transformation. These factors have caused changes in the character of the state, making it less democratic, less secular, less institutionalized and based less on concern for the people.’16

State and Party System

In liberal discourse and theory, the party system is the most vital link between the state and civil society. Whereas, in Marxist discourse, the party system is completely appropriated by the state In Kothari's classic, ‘Politics in India,’ the Indian state is mentioned only in passing, ‘To no small degree, the state has become the arbiter of society. This is not to deny the autonomy of social and economic factors in the developmental process; indeed, it seems likely that with increasing diversification of centres of power, this autonomy will increase.’17

Morris Jones writes in a similar vein, ‘The character of the political system of any modern state is substantially dictated by the manner in which political forces are organized in a party system.’18 He did not theorize about the Indian State, except for analyzing vital state institutions such as the Parliament and the party system. According to Morris Jones, in the period between 1947 to 1967, India had a party system characterized by ‘dominance coexisting with competition but without a trace of alternation,’19 because opposition parties had little hope of preventing the Congress from obtaining sizeable majority in the legislatures despite the ruling party's failure on most occasions to gain a majority of valid votes cast. Neither, by and large, did opposition parties share power in coalitions with Congress at the state level. Hence India had a ‘competitive party system…in which the competing parts play rather dissimilar roles.’ There was ‘a most important ‘openness’ in the relations between Congress and the other parties..a positive communication and interaction between them.’20 This meant that the main hope that opposition leaders had of exercising political influence was to ‘address themselves…to likeminded …groups in the dominant party’.

Congress occupied not only the broad centre of the political spectrum, but most of the left and right as well. This relegated the opposition parties not only to the margins of the Congress, but to the margins of the political and party systems as well. To make matters worse, these parties found themselves on opposite sides of the Congress, which killed any hope of their making common cause against it.21

After the 1967 election, in which the Congress lost its predominance in the states, there emerged what Morris Jones termed ‘a market polity’ in India. This was not new. ‘There was plenty of competition and bargaining before 1967,’ but it had taken place largely within the Congress, between groups and in semi-institutionalized form.’ In the 1967 election, however, which saw the Congress lose power in six states, the competition had grown too severe to be contained by the party's internal bargaining, so that dissident Congressmen played an important role in the weakening of the party…in perhaps every lost State except Tamil Nadu. This brought a number of opposition parties fully into the market place, and competition that had previously occurred within the Congress was now brought into the realm of interparty conflict. Competition also increased in as much as opposition parties formed coalition governments in every state they controlled except Tamil Nadu, and ‘coalition governments are themselves small markets’.22

The task of creating and sustaining the immensely broad Congress coalition in that first phase was, in the view of Morris Jones, made possible by the complexities and ambiguities of Indian society, which prevented class or other polarization and the formation of contradictions that might fracture an all-embracing alliance of interests.

Rajni Kothari also makes a similar observation as Morris Jones about what he calls ‘openness of political communication’ in the Indian political system in his ‘Politics in India’ (1970). He writes, ‘but there is another kind of openness somewhat peculiar to India: the continuous interaction between opposition parties and factions within the government party….they are able to influence policy and decision-making not only by providing a complete alternative to the government party…but also by influencing factions within the latter, either by criticism in the constituencies and legislatures or by the sheer personal weight of some opposition leaders.’23

Kothari's Politics in India (1970) gives an influential account of the Indian state, operating within a process of democratic modernization. Using a structural-functional framework, he described the political system as working around a ‘dynamic core’ of institutions characterized by the dominance of the Congress party. It was a differentiated system functioning along the organizational structure of the party, from village or town to district to provincial to national levels, but ‘connecting’ at each level with the parallel structure of government. This allowed for the dominance of a political centre as well as dissent from the peripheries, with opposition parties functioning as continuations of dissident groups. The emphasis was on coalition-building and consensus-making. Hence, while the political centre consisting of the modernizing elite tried to use the powers of state to transform society, the pressures of consensus-making through an electoral system set many constraints on this modernizing project.24

Kothari writes, ‘Political dissent was thus a function of fragmentation of the political centre of society rather than a projection of autonomous interests in the social and economic spheres. Such dissent was largely articulated through the new institutions of parliamentary democracy and adult franchise at different levels of governmental and developmental activity. It was not from the diversity of social interests but the fragmentation of political groups themselves that oppositional activity found its stimulus.’25 He further writes of the Congress system, ‘It is a party system with a difference, oriented towards building an authoritative structure of political affiliations downward to the base, assimilating new and divergent interests upward to the centre..The system was differentiated, crystallized through a confident implementation of universal adult franchise, which, by allowing for an open confrontation between competing elements at various levels, made acceptance of the authority of the governing legitimate and mandatory. The elections confirmed the dominance of the Congress at the national level, led to political consolidation at various other levels, provided substantial cushioning through the mobilization of rural support, and together with the penetration of planned programmes, for the first time, enabled a national government to reach out to the villages of India.’26

It was only later that Rajni Kothari, the ideologue of the ‘Congress system,’ disillusioned with the Indian model of democracy during the ascendancy of the Indira regime, analysed the Indian state. The real tests of the Indian model of ‘incremental democratic modernization,’ came in the period between 1962 and 1967, when in a short span of time, the system encountered a series of crises from change in leadership and leadership roles through challenges to the agrarian, economic and language policies to droughts, rising prices and mass demonstrations.

Faulting this system, Kothari said that ‘horizontal aggregation, at the top had come to be juxtaposed by a deliberate strategy of vertical disaggregation. Politicization and challenges from the bottom met with a response from the top that was essentially premised on the politics of populism from the top. A crisis of institutions and a crisis of values together produced the proclivity for personalized power on the part of those who were in the government and for the cult of oppositionalism or the tendency of the opposition to subordinate other goals to the simple aim of displacing those who happen to be in power.’27

Political Economy View

Early attempts to present a systematic account of the Indian state, such as those by Palmer (1962) and Morris Jones (1964) were usually framed within a liberal modernization theory, and more often than not, were celebratory in tone. Key institutions of the state were shown to have been put in place during British rule. It was believed that with a liberal democratic constitutional system and universal suffrage, the Indian political system would gradually develop its own processes of democratic decision-making, rational administration and modern citizenship. Features such as patronage relations based on caste, or religious loyalties and solidarities based on ethnicity were regarded as vestiges of underdevelopment that would go away.28

Later, more complex variants of the modernization theory were produced, most notably by Rudolph and Rudolph (1967) and in the collection on Caste and Indian Politics (1970) edited by Rajni Kothari, in which it was argued that the elements of ‘tradition’ such as caste or religion could infiltrate a modern system of political institutions, adapt to it and by transforming themselves, find enduring within it as aspects of political modernity.

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, in their more recent work, ‘In pursuit of Lakshmi: The Political Economy of the Indian State,’ have comprehensively analysed the Indian state in relation to the economy and society. They depict the Indian State as embedded in group and class pluralism. They attribute its expanding role in the mixed economy to the historical legacies of the strong sub-continental state traditions of Mughal and British India, as also to the strategy of economic development chosen by the post-colonial modernizing elites. As the state was expanding its hold over the economy, society was undergoing a simultaneous process of politicization, with the emergence of ‘demand groups’ and organized interests, characteristic of Western liberal democracies.

However, this was accompanied by the decline of political institutions: the Congress party, the parliament, the judiciary, the federal structures and so on. These developments had serious repercussions for state autonomy. The threats to the autonomy of the Indian State came from two sources: first, from the social forces and second, from the state elites themselves (which they dub as ‘state for itself’).29

According to the Rudolphs, the Indian State has oscillated between autonomous and constrained patterns. ‘Over the four decades since independence, state capacity and autonomy declined. The decline encompassed both authoritarian and democratic regimes. The long-run deterioration in state capacity and autonomy was associated with the deinstitutionalization and of both political parties and state institutions.’30

‘Like Hindu conceptions of the divine, the state in India is polymorphous, a creature of manifold forms and orientations. One is the third actor (between capitalist and working classes) whose scale and power contribute to the marginality of class politics. Another is a liberal or citizen's state, a juridical body whose legislative reach is limited by a written constitution, judicial review and fundamental rights. Still another is a capitalist state that guards the boundaries of the mixed economy by protecting the rights and promoting the interests of property in agriculture, commerce and industry. Finally, a socialist state is concerned to use public power to eradicate poverty and privilege and tame private power. Which combination prevails in a particular historical setting is a matter of inquiry.’31

The Rudolphs recognized the ultimate centrality of the state in India depicted by what they term as a ‘state for itself.’ This meant that the state had emerged as the third actor in India, negotiating between capital and labour. The ‘state for itself’ on various occasions, jealously guards its own interests to the detriment of the other two actors. They also believe that the autonomy of the Indian state has eroded over the years due to ‘de-institutionalization’ of both political parties and state institutions.

Another perspective is on the post-liberalization Indian State provided by Partha Chatterjee who observes that even as the state has voluntarily withdrawn itself from several areas of the economic activity, it continues to be the chief allocator of resources and chief facilitator among social groups. Chatterjee writes that one implication of economic liberalization since the 1990s is the withdrawal of the state from several sectors of economic activity. Even in areas where the state continues to be primarily responsible for providing services, it has preferred to outsource the job to NGOs or private agencies. This has happened at the same time political mobilizations have produced electoral majorities led by lower castes and other hitherto subordinated communities. Thus, while the pressures have increased on state institutions to provide more direct benefits, including reservations in government employment and educational institutions, for backward groups, there is a contrary pressure on the state, exerted through fiscal, judicial and other regulatory institutions, to curtail the range of its activities, and allow those sectors to be operated by the supposedly more efficient and prudent private organizations.32

As early as Frankel and Rao (1990), the argument was made that democratic politics in India was heading towards a split between public institutions, where privileged groups such as the upper middle classes were entrenched and political institutions, which were being taken over by representatives of the lower castes and hitherto underprivileged groups. More recently, it is often remarked that the split is between the private corporate sector, dominated by the upper-caste, urban, upper middle classes and the state sector, which is increasingly dominated by the middle and lower classes and the upwardly mobile rural middle classes.

More careful analysis shows that both these accounts are simplistic. While the reforms since the 1990s have undoubtedly led to the withdrawal of the state from many sectors in which it was previously the dominant or even the sole player, the importance of the state as the chief regulator, facilitator, arbiter and even allocator of resources for society as a whole has by no means diminished. The restructured state of the passive revolution, in which corporate capital has assumed a position, a position of hegemony in civil society and dominance in the state structure as a whole, is still the framework within which all dominant social classes and most organized democratic forces are engaged in their political struggles. Hence, it is by no means true that the urban middle classes have abandoned the state or democratic institutions.33

What is true, however, is that various institutions and processes within the state structure are being selectively used by dominant minority groups, such as corporate capitalists or the urban middle classes, to curtail the sway of governmental agencies operating as representatives of democratic majorities. These could be courts of law or particular bureaucratic offices, often projected in the public domain through the print and visual media. Further, there is also a certain spatial withdrawal of such dominant minority groups from territories generally administered by local institutions of the state. Thus, upper-class housing estates often prefer to reduce their dependence on local municipal services to a bare minimum so as not to deal with the messy politics of urban neighbourhoods. It is thought that the new Special Economic Zones, which are meant to contain entire townships, may become enclaves lying outside the normal jurisdiction of state agencies. Thus, instead of a split between state and non-state domains, the emergent social oppositions are being played out between different branches of the state, as well as through tactical and spatial engagements and withdrawals.34

The Marxist View of the Indian State

Marxist theory views the state, not as the result of an abstract political will nor contract but as embedded in civil society. It is an embodiment of the social dynamics resulting from either the constant change or relative stability of a mode or modes of production and the consequent class configuration. Marx has given at best an outline of a theory of state that contained both instrumentalist and structuralist arguments.35

The instrumentalist argument of Marx readily endorsed by orthodox Marxists, believed that ‘the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’. Ralph Miliband explains that ‘this is a more complex statement than appears at first sight, but it is a summary and lends itself to oversimplification. However, it does represent the core position of Marxism on the subject of the state’.36 In the Eighteenth Brumaire, however, Marx put forth a more complex theory according to which the bourgeoisie on its own keeps itself away from power because it is shrewd enough to perceive that that their interests would thus be better served. ‘This is the origin of the neo-Marxist idea of the state being relatively autonomous of the dominant economic class even though it acts on behalf of the latter and safeguards its interests.’37

The Miliband38-Poulantzas39 debate or instrumentalist-structuralist debate, which has centred around the relative autonomy of the state has theoretically enriched the neo-Marxist school. Neo-Marxists have, over the years, included developing societies within the ambit of their study.40 According to Poulantzas, the ‘specificity of the political’ in these developing societies has forced a rethinking among neo-Marxist scholars like Hamza Alavi, Anupam Sen and Pranab Bardhan, who have improvised the theory applicable to advanced capitalist societies to suit an entirely different environment.

Classical Orthodox Marxist Viewpoint

According to this viewpoint, the state is an instrument in the hands of a ruling-class coalition.41 The Communist Party of India, for instance, characterized the Indian state as a national bourgeoisie state. The class of nationalist bourgeoisie does not include the monopolists who tend to compromise with feudalism and imperialism. The CPI ideologues believe that due to their participation in their ant-imperialist struggle, certain sections of the bourgeoisie have become progressive in their outlook. It is because of this class that the Indian state can take up any anti-monopolistic measures, provided it has the will to do so.42

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) views the Indian state as ‘organ of the rule of the bourgeoisie and landlords led by the big bourgeoisie who are increasingly collaborating with foreign finance capital in pursuit of the capitalist path of development.’43

The Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist)

Similarly, with a slight variation, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist views the Indian state as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal state. CPI (ML) ideologues say that ‘the characteristic features of the new government in the name of independent India was a continuity of the old regime, of the social and economic order, the same administrative machinery of imperialism, the same bureaucracy and the same police’.44 They conclude that reforms introduced by subsequent governments ‘have not changed the foundations of Indian society in general and the ruling classes in particular…There is no change in their foundations of power.’45 They hold that the comprador bourgeoisie has mortgaged India into the hands of foreign capitalists.

Other Marxist theoreticians such as A. R. Desai, Moin Shakir and Ajit Roy also formulated, though in a more sophisticated way, a similar instrumentalist view regarding the state. A.R. Desai says that despite appearances to the contrary, the state in India is a capitalist state. Ajit Roy sees the Indian state as essentially the organ of the dictatorship of the Indian monopoly bourgeoisie and the rural bourgeoisie.46

A. R. Desai observes that despite conversion of the right to property from the status of a fundamental right to that of a legal right, it still allows a right to income through ownership. Further, the ensuing gross inequalities of income are seen as socially acceptable. Profits, rents and interests are all seen as factors inducing economic development. Other features that point to the capitalist nature of the Indian state are the absence of a legal assurance of the right to livelihood and of compensation in cases of loss of livelihood of the masses.

Desai also cites the case of the Indian planning machinery which is geared towards the path of a capitalist mixed economy, and accepts a class structure based on private ownership as the basis of economic development. While seeking to abolish social inequality, our planning process does not make a dent on the fundamental class inequality rooted in private ownership of the means of production. Desai says that such a philosophy penetrating the planning mechanism has been nurtured by the mainstream national movement, which was committed to promoting Indian markets and economy for its capitalists’ interests.

Further, the Indian economy operates on the principles of profit and production for the market, a sure sign of a capitalist economy. Desai holds that the Indian mixed economy is tilted towards the private sector. Agriculture, the largest sector of our economy is totally privately owned. Wholesale and retail trade is also in the private sector. Consumer goods industry and the transport sector (even prior to economic liberalization) are by and large, not in the public sector. Besides, economic, social and legal measures adopted by the government in the form of tax relief, subsidies, foreign loan facilities and favourable price-fixation are all geared towards securing the interests of big business and the propertied classes. What's more, the entire agrarian sector, dominated by big landlords and rich farmers are yet to be covered in the tax net. A.R. Desai, thereby, argues that the Indian state has not made an organized attempt to support the development of capitalism and resist the forces of socialism. Not a single of its manifold activities is aimed at restraining the growth of the capitalist class.

Desai concludes that the policies of the government after Independence, on the whole, strengthened propertied classes, especially the capitalist class, comprising trading, industrial and moneyed section and the land-owning class comprising profit-oriented kulak and rich farmer stratum in the country.

Neo-Marxist View

The neo-Marxists, on the other hand, provide us with a fresher perspective, shorn of instrumentalist orthodoxy and throws new light on the subject. Following the theorization of Gramsci, there is a greater willingness now to recognize the ‘relative autonomy’ of the Indian state. This recognition, however, came at a time when the state was rapidly losing its autonomous character. An important characteristic of the post-colonial Indian state, nevertheless, is its autonomous character.

Hamza Alavi was among the first neo-Marxists to argue that a post-colonial state like India has a relative autonomy vis-à-vis civil society. Alavi's theory of the ‘over-developed’ post-colonial state was greatly influenced by the dependency theory of the late 1960s. Alavi says that ‘the historical specificity of post-colonial societies arises from structural changes brought about by the colonial experience and alignment of classes and by the superstructures of political and administrative institutions that were established in that context and secondly, from radical realignments of class forces which have been brought about in the post-colonial situation.’47

He adds that the post-colonial state dispenses with the mediation of politics because the state is overdeveloped. This means that it has a superstructure which is capable of dominating all the indigenous social classes. According to Alavi, ‘the colonial state had to create a state apparatus through which it can exercise domination over all the indigenous social classes in the colony. It might be said that the superstructure in the colony is therefore overdeveloped in relation to the structure in the colony, for its basis lies in the metropolitan structure itself, from which it is later separated at the time of independence.’48

The state that is inherited by the post-colonial society is consequently so powerful that Alavi wonders that ‘the excessive enlargement of powers of regulation and control that the state acquires extends far beyond the logic of what is necessary in the interests of the orderly functioning of the peripheral capitalist economies over which the state presides and the specific needs of each of the dominant classes.’49

Apart from the colonial legacy, the structure of society also helps the state to maintain its autonomy. This is in part due to the peculiar class structure within the peripheral capitalist system. ‘In peripheral capitalist societies….we are presented with a pattern of class formation and class alignment that is different both from the advance capitalist countries and that of Lenin's picture of non-colonized Russia awaiting a bourgeois revolution.’50 Alavi finds a plurality of classes in peripheral capitalist societies and says that none of them can be designated unambiguously, as the ‘ruling class.’ Hence no single class is powerful enough to dominate over the affairs of the state.

Although Alavi's main concerns are Pakistan and Bangladesh, he has several important things to say about India. Certain commonalities are shared by these countries owing to their common past. While some of his formulations, especially those relating to a military-bureaucratic ruling class, apply specifically to Pakistan and Bangladesh, before the advent of democracy in these two countries, his other formulations may be generalized as follows51:

  1. The overdeveloped state apparatus.
  2. The relatively weak societal forces.

Lead to the relative autonomy of the state in these societies. This has been widely accepted by other neo-Marxist scholars as well. Pranab Bardhan, adding to Alavi's thesis, says that not only the colonial state, but even the pre-colonial state apparatus in India was overdeveloped. He says, ‘Some Marxist scholars have traced the extraordinary powers of control and regulation vested in the state to the colonial administration ruling an alien land. But this overdeveloped state actually goes back to pre-colonial days and was certainly evident during the peak of Mughal rule in India.’52

Bardhan also emphasizes the undisputed centrality of the state in developing societies, where he feels, it is more important than in the West. ‘In the countries of delayed industrialization, the state has usually played a more active role, as the history of south, central and eastern parts of Europe, as contrasted with the western part, clearly shows.’53

During independence, Bardhan says, the Indian state acted ‘neither at the behest of nor on behalf of the proprietary classes.’54 But over the years, the autonomy of the state has declined due to various constraints and hence, ‘today the autonomy of the Indian state is reflected more often in its regulatory role than developmental role.’55

Anupam Sen, another neo-Marxist scholar, argues that the Indian state has been able to play an independent role vis-à-vis civil society ‘because of the nature of the evolution of its social formation.’56 He says that the post-colonial state in India is still autonomous because of the prevalence of a multiplicity of modes of production. The Indian society is at the same time, partly feudal, partly capitalist and partly Asiatic. Hence on single class can emerge as the dominant class. This ensures the state's autonomy. Sen's thesis that the Asiatic Mode of Production is still valid in India, has courted controversy as AMP as a tool of analysis for Asiatic societies has long been discredited by Marxist scholars.

Achin Vanaik, another neo-Marxist scholar, while accepting almost all of the formulations of fellow neo-Marxists, goes a step further, when he analyses the relationship between the Indian state vis-à-vis foreign capital and declares that the Indian state is autonomous not only vis-à-vis civil society (internally) but also vis-à-vis foreign capital (externally).57 He has firm belief in the indigenous economic infrastructure which sustains the pressures from abroad. He is also sanguine that the ongoing economic liberalization is not going to alter the situation as ‘it is from a relatively stronger position than in the past and in a careful and cautious manner ‘that the Indian economy is approaching it.

Although Vanaik does not include the Indian middle classes in this ruling class alliance, he recognizes the pivotal role they play in Indian politics and economy. He writes, ‘There is not enough recognition of the fact that this demographic uniqueness….has played a significant role in enabling the Indian economy to pursue an internally oriented path of growth with considerable insulation from the world economy, thus reinforcing the state's autonomy.’58

Recent Formulations

More recently, Partha Chatterjee writes that a strong theme in current discussions about state institutions in India is that of decline. From law-making to administration, policymaking to public services, the charge is that standards of accountability and probity have been allowed to deteriorate. The most proximate reason for this is the constant pressure on state authorities exerted mainly through the electoral process to satisfy the demands of this or that organized popular group. The recent comprehensive history of Indian politics since Independence by Ramachandra Guha (2007) also adopts this narrative line.59 The decline argument assumes, of course, that the norms of state practice established in the early decades of the Indian Republic when mobilized demands were restricted to a very small section of the electorate and policy was decided by a handful of patrician politicians, should also have proved adequate in an age when democratic mobilizations are both wider and deeper. Chatterjee says that this assumption is mistaken. While the normative view of the state required that society, consisting of equal citizens, be treated as homogeneous, the evolving practices of democratic politics required the recognition and identification of a heterogeneous social.

The 1980s was a decade of Congress (I) dominance. It was marked by the centralization of control of the central leadership over the Congress party. Structural reforms under the P. V. Narasimha Rao government, also transformed the state of the passive revolution. Measures such as the dismantling of the licence regime, greater entry of foreign capital and foreign consumer goods and the opening up of sectors such as telecommunications, transport, infrastructure, mining, banking, insurance and the like to private capital, led to a change in the very composition of the capitalist class.60

Instead of the earlier dominance of a few monopoly houses drawn from traditional merchant backgrounds and protected by the license and import substitution regime, there were now many more entrants to into the capitalist class at all levels, and much greater mobility within its formation. Unlike the earlier fear of foreign competition, there appears to be much greater confidence among Indian capitalists to make use of the opportunities opened up by global flows of capital, goods and services, including, in recent times, significant exports of capital. The most dramatic event was the rise of the Indian IT industry. Domestic manufacturing and services also received a major spurt, leading to annual growth rates of 8 or 9 per cent for the economy as a whole in the last few years.61

There have been several political changes as a result. First, there is a distinct ascendancy in the relative power of the corporate capitalist class, compared to the landed elites. The political means by which this domination has been achieved needs to be investigated more carefully, because was not achieved through the mechanism of electoral mobilization (which used to be the source of the political power of the landed elites). One study has, in fact described the economic reforms as having being carried out ‘by stealth’ (Jenkins 1999). Second, the dismantling of the licence regime has opened up a new field of competition between state governments to woo capitalist investment, both domestic and foreign. This has resulted in the involvement of state-level political parties and leaders with the interests of national and corporate capital in unprecedented ways. Third, although the state continues to be the most important mediating apparatus in negotiating between conflicting class interests, the autonomy of the state with respect to the dominant classes appears to have been redefined. Crucially, the earlier role of the bureaucratic –managerial class, or more generally of the urban middle classes, in leading and operating, both socially and ideologically, the autonomous, interventionist activities of the developmental state has significantly weakened. There is a strong ideological tendency among the urban middle classes today, to view the state apparatus as ridden with corruption, inefficiency and populist, political venality and a much greater social acceptance of the professionalism and commitment to growth and efficiency of the corporate capitalist sector. The urban middle class which once played such a crucial role in producing and running the autonomous developmental state of the passive revolution, appears now to have come under the moral-political sway of the bourgeoisie.62

However, it would be a mistake to think that the result is a convergence of the Indian political system with the classical models of capitalist democracy. The critical difference has been produced, as described in Chatterjee (2004), ‘by a split in the field of the political, between a domain of a properly constituted civil society and a more ill-defined and contingently activated domain of political society. Civil society in India today, peopled largely by the urban middle classes, is the sphere that seeks to be congruent with the normative models of bourgeois civil society and represents the domain of capitalist hegemony. If this were the only domain, then India today would probably be indistinguishable from other Western capitalist democracies. But there is the other domain of, what I call, political society, which includes large sections of the rural population and the urban poor. These people do, of course, have the formal status of citizens and can exercise their franchise as an instrument of political bargaining. But they do not relate to the organs of the state in the same way that the middle classes do, nor do governmental agencies treat them as proper citizens belonging to civil society. Those in political society, make their claims on government, and in turn are governed, not within the framework of stable, constitutionally defined rights and laws, but rather through temporary, contextual and unstable arrangements arrived at through direct political negotiations. The latter domain, which represents the vast bulk of democratic politics in India, is not under the moral- political leadership of the capitalist class.’63

Hence, Chatterjee argues that the framework of passive revolution is still valid for India. But its structure and dynamics have undergone a change. The capitalist class has come to acquire a moral hegemony over civil society, which consists chiefly of the urban middle classes. It exercises considerable influence over both the central and the state governments not through the elected mobilization of political parties and movements but largely through the bureaucratic-managerial class, the increasingly influential print and visual media and the judiciary and other independent, regulatory bodies. The dominance of the capitalist class within the state structure as a whole can be inferred from the virtual consensus among all major political parties about the priorities of rapid economic growth led by private investment, both domestic and foreign. It is striking that even the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal and slightly more ambiguously in Kerala, has in practice, if not in theory, joined this consensus. This means that as far as the party system is concerned, it does not matter which particular combination of parties comes to power at the Centre or even in most of the states; state support for rapid economic growth is guaranteed to continue. This is evidence of the current success of the passive revolution.64

However, the practice of the state also includes the large range of governmental activities in political society. Here are found the locally dominant interests such as those of landed elites, small producers and local traders, who are able to exercise political influence through their powers of electoral mobilization. In the old understanding of the passive revolution, these interests would have been seen as potentially opposed to those of the industrial bourgeoisie; the conflicts would have been temporarily resolved through a compromise worked out within the party system and the autonomous apparatus of the state. Now, there is a new dynamic logic that ties the operations of the political society with the hegemonic role of the bourgeoisie in civil society and its dominance over the state structure as a whole. This logic is supplied by the requirement of reversing the effects of primitive accumulation of capital, which must inevitably accompany the process of rapid industrial growth.65

Gandhian Theory of the Indian State

In Gandhi's writings, the main target of attack is the amoral, coercive state, and not any particular class.66 Not that Gandhi was oblivious of or tolerant towards the class conflicts of modern times. He did recognize the reality of class conflicts between capital and labour, and between landlords and landless labourers. He also maintained that capitalism and zamindari should be ‘sterilized’ and that in a true democracy, class conflicts would be transcended.67 He, however, not only opposed the class war approach to social transformation but also regarded the domination by any particular class to be a lesser evil than the violence and oppression of the state. He believed that human liberation from ‘the evils of capital’ is hampered by the fact that the class conflicts of the imperialist capitalist system have become enmeshed with and transformed by a basic conflict between the individual and the state, which he said, ‘represents violence in a concentrated form’.68

As if in anticipation of the Habermasian diagnosis of the crucial role of state intervention in the maintenance of the late capitalist system, Gandhi wrote that ‘the violence of private ownership is less injurious than the violence of the State’.69 While he recognized the need for mankind to move beyond the capitalist utilitarian system of social organization, he was convinced that ‘if the State suppressed capitalism by violence, it will be caught in the coils of violence itself and will fail to develop non-violence at any time.’70 True to his belief in the integral nature of the means-ends continuum, he maintained that through violent means, we cannot break out of the ‘vicious circle of violence and exploitation’.

Gandhi's objection to the organized and concentrated violence of the state had to do with his commitment to individual freedom. ‘The individual,’ he said, ‘is the one supreme consideration’. ‘If the individual ceases to count,’ he asked, ‘what is left of society?’71 In fact, Gandhi's entire social theory and praxis were aimed at using and extending civil liberties for the democratization of ‘the whole social structure.72 He shared the liberal concern for individual freedom. But he found the liberal and liberal-democratic method of securing social order through the supposedly amoral, objectified state to be at the expense of the political dimension of the freedom of the individual. He therefore sought to redeem individual freedom even in the political sphere without endangering social harmony. He, thus, attempted to resolve the contradiction in the theory and practice of liberal democracy between the affirmation of individual freedom in the so-called private sphere of morality and its curtailment in the allegedly amoral or purely technical public or political sphere.

Unlike the pre-liberal world-views, the modern liberal ideology recognizes the individual's freedom of judgement, choice, contract and possessions.73 This has historically been ‘a vast emancipatory achievement for mankind’.74 But the ensuing inequalities in property and the clash of individual, private interests and judgements, which were unleashed by the liberal revolution, endangered social order. The liberal and liberal-democratic answer to this problem of social order was the invention of a political form of government, which excluded individual private judgements.75 That is the rule of one man, (through an individual's private judgement), was replaced by the republican form of government, which, with the eventual democratization of the franchise, became the liberal-democratic state. This state of the ‘political’ is supposed to be autonomous from or external to the rest of social life; the standards of expediency or expediency or effectiveness of the former are assumed to be divorced from private, moral standards. That the constitution of the liberal-democratic state is based on this artificial dichotomization of social life into the public/political and the private, the amoral and the moral, is argued by Carole Pateman:

The liberal answer to the problem of social order inherent in such a society was to divide social life into two spheres and to substitute for shared principles a ‘political method’ or procedure for arbitrating between conflicting individual interests and deciding on the ‘public interest’. In the private sphere of social life, individuals’ non-political natural rights are given actual expression; this is the proper sphere for individuals to exercise their private judgement and pursue their interests. In the political sphere, individual private judgement excluded, the natural political right is given up and decisions are made on behalf of individuals by chosen representatives.76

These representatives, as Pateman goes on to point out, are supposedly engaged in representing the political or public interest, not the separate, conflicting interests of individuals. Political decisions are thus assumed to be value-neutral, procedural or technical decisions. Similarly democracy is reduced to an allegedly amoral ‘political method,’ which, unlike integral or participatory democracy, only gives the people ‘the opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them’. These rulers or representatives are supposed to embody ‘the political selves, the citizen selves of the members of the community’.77

Thus, in liberal democratic theory and practice, the political is reified and objectified into the representative state, which becomes the bearer of the alienated political rights of the citizens. Hence, there is a fundamental contradiction in liberal democratic theory and practice between the affirmation of individual freedom in the private sphere and its curtailment in the public/political sphere.

Actually, the objectification of the political into the state and its privatization and hierarchization by the technocrats of power, which militate against the requirements of the capitalist-industrialist system for state intervention in the process of capital accumulation.78

This technocratization of politics has been going on even in the liberal democracies. Under favourable socio-historical conditions, liberal democracy has indeed served as a peaceful mechanism for securing formal democratic legitimacy for the state. But when the masses have used or threatened to use their civil liberties for pushing the electoral or formal democracies in the direction of a substantive or participatory democracy, which would have offset the state-managed private accumulation of socially produced surplus value, the technocrats of power have raised the cry of ‘governability crisis’ and have used coercive methods to depoliticize the mass public, thereby further objectifying the state and privatizing it as a purely technocratic enterprise.

Gandhi attacked the late-modern capitalist state for its fascist proclivities. He believed that the de-reification of the objectified state was necessary for redeeming the political dimension of individual freedom. ‘I look upon an increase in the power of the State with the greatest fear, because while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of progress.’79

He maintained that the state is a ‘soulless machine’ and that amoral polities encircle us like ‘the coils of a snake’. He therefore sought to repair the liberal democratic one-dimensionalization of freedom and democracy without endangering social harmony by combining swaraj (participatory democracy) with the satyagraha mode of integrating politics and morality.

Swaraj or Participatory Democracy

Gandhi criticized the liberal-democratic reification, objectification and technocratization of the political and the alienation of the people's political rights. He also put forward the alternative of participatory democracy, which ruptures the positivist disjunction between subject and object.

‘A superficial study of British history has made us think that all power percolates to the people from parliaments. The truth is that power resides in the people and it is entrusted for the time being to those whom they may choose as their representatives.’80

‘Let us not push the mandate theory to ridiculous extremes and become slaves to resolutions of majorities….True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the Centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village.’81

While admitting that the necessity of a ‘central government administration’ cannot be ruled out, Gandhi maintained that it need not and ought not to be patterned after ‘the accepted Western form of democracy’. His objection was to the central government administration becoming the bearer of the alienated political rights of citizens ‘Under my plan,’ he said, ‘the State will be there to carry out the will of the people, not to dictate to them or force them to do its will’.82 While he did caution us against converting democracy into mobocracy, he insisted that ‘democracy is an impossible thing until power is shared by all’. He said, ‘Most people do not understand the complicated machinery of the government. They do not realize that every citizen silently but nonetheless certainly sustains the government of the day in ways of which he has no knowledge.’83

Elsewhere, he added, ‘Real swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, swaraj is to be attained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.’84

According to Gandhi, the central government administration should not be structured as a pyramid but as an oceanic circle.

‘In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever-widening, never-ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units.’85

Gandhi also described this model of Swaraj as being ‘synonymous with Ram Rajya or the establishment of the Kingdom of Righteousness on earth.’ He described Ram Rajya as ‘sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority’.86 Although Gandhi regarded class-war as alien to the essential genius of India, the Ram Rajya of his dreams ‘ensures rights alike of prince and pauper’.

In the modern context, RamRajya means an ideal state, where the subjects would be free from the threefold miseries of physical pain, ill fortune and evil circumstances. There would be no hunger, disease, natural or manmade calamities. All men and women would love one another live their lives in accordance with righteousness and the injunctions of the sacred scriptures. There wouldn't be infant mortality or premature death or suffering of any kind. No one would be destitute or sorrowful or miserable. Ram Rajya would be monarchic in form but democratic in practice. The king would never do anything against the wishes of the people. The very basis of Ram Rajya was the spiritualization of politics.87


Today, we find a convergence of sorts in the Neo-Liberal and Neo-Marxist perspectives, with the former veering towards radical positions and the latter being more liberal in their approach. Both, today, give the state the position it deserves and agree about the ‘specificity of the political’. Neo-Marxists, while shedding the determinism of orthodox Marxists who are prone to reducing the state to the class, still fail to come to terms with the complexity of the Indian social formation. They tend to take a dismissive view of caste, ethnicity, religion and the forces of nationalism in India and the contemporary world.

Meanwhile, the Gandhian ideas of village democracy were sought to be implemented in the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments relating to Panchayati Raj and Nagar Palika. However, the spirit of participatory democracy is yet to flower and the implementation of the Act has been tardy. As the Indian state grapples with crises, not least among them, violent threats to internal security such as Maoism and responds in return with ‘concentrated violence’, the Gandhian ideal appears utopian, paradoxically, when its relevance has never been greater.

In sum, it may be said that the state in India retains its autonomous character, although its autonomy is much less than that inherited from the colonial state. Economic liberalization in India has created conditions for a rapid growth of capitalism in India. Whether or not a single class emerges in the process to dominate the state apparatus is open to question. But some factors would impede such a development. These are the forces of ethnicity, language, religion, region, urban-rural divide and so on, which show amazing resilience in the Indian context. Even if a dominant class does emerge in the course of time, it would be in the interest of the dominant class coalition (as the Neo-Marxist debate testifies) that the state retain its autonomy.88