Where Are Post-Independence Books on Indian Philosophy And Thought?

Recently I have read two excellent books by Anthony Gottlieb on western philosophy titled ‘The Dream of Reason’ and ‘The Dream of Enlightenment’. And I must say that I enjoyed both of them thoroughly, and am waiting for the third one which will cover the development of philosophy in modern times, especially after enlightenment. Both the books read like a hugely entertaining and engaging novel, and Gottlieb is a terrific writer. Even the most difficult of the concepts from western philosophy have been so easily explained that I have no hesitation in accepting that some concepts of Plato and Aristotle which have not been clear to me for long, were for the first time illuminated by Gottlieb.  Gottlieb was executive editor of The Economist, and was educated at Cambridge and has also held academic positions. An interesting feature of his book is that he has consciously refrained from referring to other secondary sources (books on western philosophy by other authors) and has only referred to the primary sources. This is especially true about the first volume, dealing with ancient and medieval periods.

While going through the second volume, I started thinking and wishing for a similar volume on Indian philosophy. As far as I knew, there was no such volume written for curious educated reader interested in getting introduced to Indian thought – ancient, medieval and modern. Then I thought of making a fresh search again and did so. The result largely remains the same. In the process, I also decided that it is something on which I should comment. So this piece in my blog!

Searching Modern Popular Books on Indian Philosophy and Thought

There are good numbers of books available on Indian Philosophy, and I had made attempts earlier also to make myself aware of this field, and had tried going through a couple of those books. I found most of them very dry, written not in an engaging style, often difficult to understand and haphazardly organized. Most easily available ones like many books by Y. Masih (this writer appears to be an assembly line producer of text books on all types of philosophies: eastern, western, Greek; you name it, perhaps he has written a book on it), book by Chandradhar Sharma and few others are typical Indian textbooks, which one would read only when one is forced to! So, for an educated, curious mind, looking for an interesting and engaging book, options are very limited.

The most popular and one of the classic book on Indian Philosophy available is the two volume set written by the thinker, statesman and president of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. These books were written well before independence (in fact, by 2022, they will be completing the centenary), and thus are very old, yet they serve as excellent introduction and an advanced look into the Indian philosophical tradition and thought. However, there are three main issues with these volumes. First, obviously, they are very old, and reflect the though and understanding of early twentieth century, and therefore, not updated with subsequent research, understanding and debates. Second, they are largely concerned with religious philosophy or with the problem and analysis of world in relation to God, largely ignoring other philosophical issues like questions relating to logic, science, mathematics, epistemology, language and ethics etc. Further, the first volume, which mostly discussed Vedic gods, rituals and worship practices, Vedas and Upanishads, including Buddhist and Jain thoughts is more pronounced in this regard. The second volume covers the six system of Indian philosophy, namely Nyaya, Vaisesika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimansaa and Vedanta, but again, though analytical (and not critical) the coverage is limited mostly to metaphysical issues. Third, though it is an excellent source and reference, it is not as engaging and interesting as Gottlieb’s or some other books on western philosophy, and may not be of interest to a general reader.

There are few other books by Radhakrishnan on Indian thought and philosophy. Though I have not read them, but from what I know about them, they are very good. Two books worth noting are ‘An Idealist View of Life’ (published first time in 1931-32), and ‘The Hindu View of Life’ (published in 1926). Clearly, they were again written almost a century ago, and largely concerns themselves with question of God, religion etc, and in that sense are limited in their scope and coverage.

I remember reading another old book by Chatterjee and Dutta long back. It was than published by University of Calcutta. Originally published in 1939, it is a reasonably good book for having a meaningful introduction of Indian philosophy, the six systems, as well as Buddhist and Jain thoughts. However, it also suffers from the same shortcomings; being almost a century old, written in textbook style, and in a very traditional fashion. I found that it is still available, now in a paperback edition (2007) from Rupa Publications. While availability of Radhakrishnan’s books, considered classics, is understandable, the availability of this book even after almost a century,  attests to the fact that there is acute dearth of reasonably good modern books (and textbooks) on Indian philosophy written in post-independence India.

There is another classic encyclopedic book of five volumes on Indian philosophy by Surendranath Dasgupta. However, as like other good books, it was written during the early period of 20th century (1922, to be precise), and due to its huge size (more than 2500 pages) does not serve the purpose of being a popular intelligent introduction to Indian philosophy and thought.

I should not be closing this section without mentioning a book by Late Heinrich Zimmer, professor of philosophy at Columbia University. The book titled ‘Philosophies of India’ was published posthumously in 1951, edited by Joseph Campbell based on Zimmer’s manuscripts and notes. Although it is also an old book, in the first glance, it appears to be more broad based discussing issues like philosophy of power, and of success, political geometry, universal king etc. However, the neglect of science and related explorations of Indian philosophy at the cost of focus on god, metaphysics and politics is present here too.

And none of the books I have found deals with medieval and late medieval philosophical developments, which was a syncretic process synthesizing ancient Indian and middle east/Arabic/Persian thoughts.

One qualification is required here. My survey and search is confined to the books available in English. However, in respect of Hindi, and other regional languages of India, I am reasonably certain that situation is not much better, perhaps worse than that found in English. The decline of Hindi language and literature in past century is well known and we are also well aware of the plight of Hindi language authors and academicians. Further, other regional languages have done better, and therefore, the situation there might be better.

Philosophy, Religion, ‘This Worldly’ Issues and Their Critical Analysis

I can be questioned on my wish of seeing philosophy divorced from religion and question of God. In all civilizations, philosophy originally developed within the confines of religious thought. The quest of human mind to understand and explain this world, the world beyond, the universe, and various phenomenon within all this led to development of philosophical enquiry (understood in broadest sense), and if I may say so, also led to the development of idea of God.

In this light, it is a fair claim that it may not be possible to meaningfully separate Indian thought and philosophy from ancient Indian religious thought.

Though I would agree to this claim at one level, I still think that it is possible to have understanding of philosophical issues by expanding our analysis beyond question of existence, purpose of this life and God.  And it not the case that there is dearth of such ‘worldly’ ideas in our ancient thought. Ancient thinkers like Aryabhatt, Varahmihir, Chanakya, Shankarachaya, Nagarjuna, Bhaskaracharya, Charak and numerous others have made important contribution in the areas of science, mathematics, astronomy and astrology, system of thoughts, politics, money matters, and epistemology, and various other ‘this worldly’ practical questions.

In fact, if we look closely, the western tradition of philosophy was developed even more strongly within the confines and limitations of Greco-Roman religious tradition and subsequently within Christian religious worldview. Ideas of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophists, Stoics, Sceptics and others were developed within the boundaries of pagan world view of Greco-Roman religious thoughts. Similarly, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other medieval philosophers were Christian priests and thinkers. And I would also like to point out that thinkers like Descartes, Galileo, Copernicus, Erasmus, Hypatia and many others have to suffer a lot (including death) for their inquisitive mind and unorthodox views, and often have to propound their theories as just imaginary tales to evade the ire and Inquisition of church. Such was the attitude of church towards non-conformist views during medieval and renaissance period, even during enlightenment and beyond. In comparison, Indian thought and philosophical tradition have always accommodated (and if I may also say, encouraged) all types of heterodox, non-conformist thinking, ideas and approaches. Indian pluralism has a very long and rich history. And therefore, I would say that it is very much possible to examine and analyse Indian philosophical ideas fruitfully too, largely divorcing it from the question of God.

And for the still sceptical, I would add that s/he only needs to read Gottlieb’s book to realize that it is possible to explain, examine and analyse philosophical thoughts, questions and developments without mixing it with religious themes.

A related idea is of critically analysing ancient (and not so ancient) thinkers and philosophers and commenting on their theories, worldview, metaphysics and philosophies. This is another area, where we need to learn from western liberal traditions. Even Gottlieb is not shying away from critically analyzing and examining various theories and ideas of earlier philosophers, at times, even inferring as to why and how they thought the way they thought, looking at historical, social, political and cultural factors. As far as my understanding goes, this kind of open analysis is yet to make a mark in Indian philosophical writings.

I also see a vacuum of research, analysis and literature in the areas of Indian thought and philosophies of medieval and modern periods. There is hardly any popular, or for that matter scholarly, book covering these period and thinkers from these eras. A book emphasizing Indian thought and philosophical development should tackle medieval time’s religious and other currents, like bhakti and sufi, development of puranic traditions and thoughts, ideas of Tulsidas, Kabir, Tukaram, Nanak, Chaitanya, Surdas and others, as well as philosophical engagement of Islamic thought in India influenced from Arbic/Persian/Middle eastern thoughts, including Buddhist and Jaina thinking. I feel myself too inadequate to elaborate it further as my knowledge is sketchy, but am sure that this is a hugely neglected area. There has been some good research and literature for this period, but that largely pertains to disciplinary areas of historical and social analysis.

Moving further to British period, I again hardly find popular or serious and scholarly books on philosophy and development of thought. Books for this period should include and analyse ideas of such thinkers like Ranade, Gokhle, Tilak, Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru, Periyar, Ambedkar, Patel, Bose, Ahmad Khan, Roy, Krishnamurthy, Radhakrishnan, Azad, Rajgopalachari, Phule, and many others, including Savarkar and Mukerjee. Whatever is available is again within the confines of historical and social analysis (and there is a rich literature here), where obviously, the emphasis in not on examining and critically analysing the thought process, writings, philosophical and scientific ideas ingrained therein, development of these ideas and thoughts, their inter-linkages – temporal and spatial.

Further, there are books on individual thinkers (most numerous on Mahatma Gandhi), analysis of their writing and thoughts, but again it is more historical-political and less philosophical, analytical and comparative. Another worrying trend is that of growing intolerance where supporters of different thinkers are not ready to have them analysed critically. Here again, Mahatma Gandhi, accompanied by Nehru (to a lesser extent) are the only thinkers who have been put through critical analysis since long. In fact, of late, criticizing Nehru seems to be becoming a fashion.

In any case, I see a huge gap here also in terms of unavailability of popular, scholarly yet interesting books covering Indian thought and philosophical process of medieval and modern period.

Whereas Many Options for Learning Western Philosophy 

The contrast between books available for Indian and western philosophical tradition becomes sharper when I compare what is available on western philosophy. Apart from Gottlieb, there is one classic, hugely popular book by Will Durant. Though this too is an old one, again more than half a century old (last edition was in 1933); the style, the approach, the treatment and the prose, all are first rate. This was the first book I tried reading about western philosophy, around a decade ago (I don’t remember whether I could finish it or not).

Let me list three more, excellent books on western philosophy, which I plan to read. The first one is another classic, by the great philosopher of twentieth century; Bertrand Russel titled ‘History of Western Philosophy’, first published in 1945. The edition with me runs in to more than 750 pages and divided in to three parts; ancient, catholic and modern philosophy. It follows the traditional approach of tracing the development of philosophical thought through life, work and times of important philosophers and thinkers in western tradition. Another modern books is written by British Philosopher of Oxford University, Sir Anthony Kenny titled ‘A New History of Western Philosophy’, originally published in four volumes starting 2005. The combined volume with me is a tome of more than 1000 pages (first published in 2010) with rather small font. The treatment is primarily periodic with four parts dealing, in turn with ancient, medieval, early modern and modern times. However, within each of these periods, instead of analyzing ideas of great thinkers, Kenny prefers being thematic. Thus, we have discussion on knowledge and language, metaphysics, science, mathematics, ethics, god, mind and soul, logic, epistemology, truth etc., under each of the period. However, within these there is an attempt to analyse and synthesize the ideas of different thinkers too, making cross references and comparisons.

A similar approach has been taken by Roger Scruton, the British conservative firebrand philosopher in his book Modern Philosophy – An Introduction and Survey (first published in 1996). As the title makes it clear, Scruton is concerned with modern philosophy, mainly but not exclusively, the period from Enlightenment onward. His approach and coverage of ideas seems wider than Kenny in the sense that in addition to themes like ethics, mind and soul, knowledge, language etc, he also involves himself with more modern ideas like perception, imagination, paradox, objectivity, identity etc. However, it is good that he has eschewed himself from engaging in post-modern ideas.

I have only done ‘elementary’ and ‘inspectional’ reading (that there can be different approach to and types of reading has been beautifully described by Adler and Van Doren in their famous book, How to Read A Book) of Scruton and Russell book, yet it has given me the feeling that they are very interesting to read, and have been written with an intelligent lay reader in mind. However, I cannot very confidently claim the same about the book by Sir Anthony Kenny. In any case, its volume and weight itself is sufficient to deter any non-serious attempters.

And there are many, many more books on western philosophy if one wants to go further. But I will not go any further here.

The Troubling Question

Instead I will come back to my two main issues.

First, Why don’t we have similar engaging, popular books on Indian Philosophy? Especially books written after independence.

Or perhaps books are available; it is that I have not tried hard enough to find them.

Second, but equally important, why there is no worthwhile book to name, published after independence, which can be compared to the classics of Russell or Radhakrishnan?

I may not be fully correct in framing the second question. But first let me tackle the first question.

I think I have tired reasonably hard. Amazon, google and goodreads are now well endowed with extensive and comprehensive data base of books published, especially recent books. And I am, therefore, reasonably sure that my search have been rather comprehensive, and there is no popular book on Indian philosophy written after independence which is of the quality and calibre of Gottlieb, or Scruton or Durant.

On the second question, during my search, I came to know of Bimal Krishna Matilal, and books written by him. He was an Indian, professor of philosophy at Oxford, who died in 1991.  Many of his essays have been published by Oxford University press in two volume (see reference) titled ‘Mind Language and World’, and ‘Ethics and Epics’. I have both these books, an ‘elementary’ reading/flipping makes it clear that he is discussing issues like conception of philosophy in India, knowledge, truth, skepticism, logic, simplicity and profundity etc. He has authored many other books too, presumably of high quality. So there is at least one post-independence Indian philosopher with some quality work. There might be few more, I suspect, not in India but abroad. Another name comes to my mind, that of Sheldon Pollock, of Columbia University. Obviously he is not Indian, but has worked extensively on Indian thought, language and philosophy. I still have to read his book titled ‘The Language of God in the World of Men’. Despite their quality and coverage, these books are not of the stature and standard of that of Bertrand Russell’s classic, but at least, they are there!!

Why No One Is Studying Philosophy in India

One obvious reason of absence of such books on Indian philosophy is that no one is writing such books. And why no one is writing such books? It is because no one (or very few) is studying Sanskrit and philosophy in India nowadays. As is the case, after independence, and gradually thereafter, there has been a steady decline in quality and quantity of people taking up arts, liberal arts (and few discipline of social sciences too) as a career. For most of the middle class and aspiring middle class citizens, career in technology, engineering, medicine, commerce and economics, and management was, and still is, the dream. Those few, who took social science and arts, mostly wanted to enter civil services, and continued in academic only as a residual choice.

A gross generalization may not be appropriate here. Indeed, there have been, and still are, few intelligent, highly motivated, dedicated individuals who took up academic and research careers in arts and philosophy, and whatever good quality work we find today, we need to be thankful to them for their passion and hard work. I would also like to mention that many such individuals found their calling and have opportunity of excellence in universities and research institutions abroad. Most of the Indian educational and research establishments in social science and arts (except few, again) have steadily deteriorated over the years. I would also say that universities in south and west India have fared much better in this regard.

In a sense, when there are very limited opportunities, and all kind of difficulties and struggle, and very low social and professional recognition in choosing philosophy/Sanskrit/liberal arts as a profession, it is understandable that most young people avoid such paths, unless someone is exceptionally motivated and passionate. To that extent, the way our educational system, especially higher educational structure has developed and taken shape since independence, where arts, liberal arts, and even social sciences have been neglected and under-funded vis-à-vis technology and professional program needs to share the blame. How many educational and research institutions of the standing and with the comparable infrastructure of IITs, IIMs, NITs (and now IISERs, IIITs, NLSUI) etc., can we boast of in the fields of arts and liberal arts? Not only the government but private charitable institutions too are to share the responsibility. Our prominent business philanthropies believe more in constructing temples then in establishing universities, research institutions, libraries and other centers of learning!

And let me make one more contrast here. Today, on the one hand, we are in a situation where we have completely neglected our actual ancient history, philosophy, knowledge and thought, where we have not bothered to promote the study and scholarships of these disciplines, where today most of the scholars choose to study Sanskrit/philosophy only because they could not get in to IIT/Medical or some other professional course; whereas on the other hand, we are increasingly becoming chest thumping chauvinists willing to fight (and even kill) in the name of some stupid, imaginary ancient cultural practices and (philosophical) ideas.

Who cares for what Aryabhatta or Nagarjuna thought and discovered, it is much more important to save the holy Cow, the lynchpin of our philosophically rich civilization!!!!

And it becomes all the more easy and natural to believe in sacredness of cow when we graduate from IITs/IIMs etc, specializing in dynamics, calculus, finance, computer coding and what not, but without even an iota of actual understanding of our rich, diverse yet syncretic, accommodating and adjusting cultural and philosophical heritage.

Children and Philosophy?

Let me end with talking about a philosophy book written exclusively for children! (Of course, we can equally be benefited by it)

I was much impressed by this superb book – Sophie’s World, a novel, a story, about history of philosophy by a Norwegian story writer, Jostein Gaarder, first published in 1994. It is actually written as a novel for children introducing them to the western philosophical thought. It has been a hugely popular book, has attained the status of a cult classic and has been translated in to more than 60 other languages with more than 40 million copies sold worldwide. I have the book, and I read few chapters. Sophie is a school going girl. The story starts one May afternoon, when she is returning home back from school with her friend. Her father periodically visits home as he works in an oil company; her mother has gone to work. She, at the gate of her home, in the letterbox, finds a white envelope addressed to her… and the story proceeds.

The novel is as interesting and engaging as Gottlieb book, and truly a golden treasure for all middle and high school children. It should be a required reading in school, as is ‘The Diary of A Young Girl’.

When are we going to have our own Sophie’s World?

I am waiting for a Gottlieb or a  Durant or a Gaarder and dream of seeing popular intelligent books on Indian philosophy someday.


Main Books Referred Above:

  • Adler Mortimer, Van Doren Charles: How to Read A Book (1940, 1972); Simon and Schuster, New York
  • Chatterjee Satischandra, Datta Dhirendramohan: An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (1939, Reprinted 2007): Rupa Publications, New Delhi
  • Dasgupta Surendranath: A History of Indian Philosophy (5 volume) (1922); Motilal Banarsidas, New Delhi
  • Durant Will: The Story of Philosophy; (1961) Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York
  • Gaarder Jostein: Sophie’s World – A Novel About the History of Philosophy; (1994) Orion Publishing Group, London
  • Gottlieb Anthony: The Dream of Enlightenment – The Rise of Modern Philosophy; (2016) Penguin Books, New Delhi
  • Gottlieb Anthony: The Dream of Reason – A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance; (2001, 2016) Penguin Books, New Delhi
  • Kenny Anthony: A New History of Western Philosophy; (2010) Oxford University Press, UK (4 volumes published combined)
  • Matilal Bimal Krishna: Ethics and Epics (Collected Essays, vol – 2); (2002) Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  • Matilal Bimal Krishna: Mind, Language and World (Collected Essays, vol – 1); (2002) Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  • Pollock Sheldon: The Language of God in the World of Men – Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India (2006); University of California Press, Berkeley
  • Radhakrishnan Sarvepalli: Indian Philosophy (Vol -1); (1930); Second Edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  • Radhakrishnan Sarvepalli: Indian Philosophy (Vol – 2); (1930); Second Edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  • Russell Bertrand: History of Western Philosophy; (1946, 1996) Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, London, UK
  • Scruton Roger: Modern Philosophy – An Introduction and Survey; (1996) Bloomsbury Reader, New York
  • Zimmer Heinrich (Edited by Joseph Campbell): Philosophies of India (1951); Motilal Banarsidas, New Delhi

सच और साहस की जीत ! पी.के. है क्या ?


If you can read Hindi, please go through this. A piquant, sarcastic, witty yet biting piece, reminding you of the ground realities of development challenges in Bihar. (Its written by someone who is a close friend)

But be on guard, Hindi is not always easy!


“हमका लागत है भगवान से बात करे का कम्यूनिकेशन सिस्टम इस गोला का टोटल लूल हो चुका है….” पी.के. का यह कालजयी संवाद यूं तो सभ्यता के इतिहास की कई त्रासदियों में भगवान की घनघोर असफलता को रेखांकित…

Source: सच और साहस की जीत ! पी.के. है क्या ?

‘Facts’ and ‘Values’ in Economics: From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’


0.1      The question of ‘is’ and ‘ought’, or what more popularly is known as distinction between ‘positive’ and ‘normative’ ideas and statements is an important issue which has significant bearing on how economics, its findings and its recommendations should be taken by policy makers, public representative and society. In fact, the very question of findings, descriptions and explanations offered by ‘economics’ as well as recommendations and policy lessons derived on the basis of these findings of economic methodology are positive and normative issues, or if I may say issues concerning  ‘facts’ and ‘values’.

The distinction between ‘fact’ and ‘value’ and the contention as to whether these are two separate categories, treated as water-tight compartment by many on the one hand, and as a continuum of phenomenon with these ideas/concepts lying at the end by other economists and social scientists has very important implication for any policy science and it can really help in understanding the nature, logic and methodological issues in economics in general and the applicability and usefulness of concepts, theories and findings of economics  in policy and governance in particular.

The larger issue of ‘fact’ and ‘value’ and the dichotomy between these two distinctions has occupied philosophers and other intellectuals for quite a long time. One of the 20th century most erudite philosopher Hilary Putnam’s (who died very recently in March 2016 at the age of 89) as well as Amartya Sen has made major contribution in bringing ethical and value based questions by bringing it to the forefront of economic analysis in general and in welfare economics in particular. They successfully disputed the claim that positive, fact based analysis in economic is superior to value question and have also claimed that the dichotomy between ‘fact’ and ‘value’ is largely artificial.

0.2       What I propose to do in the following paragraphs is to examine and elaborate the ‘Is’ and ‘Ought’ issue in reference to economics as a ‘policy science’ and would try to infer how these insights can be useful in governance and public policy. I would try to keep the language and style of the essay non-technical so that my readers without much advanced knowledge of economic theory and concepts are able to appreciate it, though it may not be possible to totally avoid referring to some technical economic concepts.

The essay has three main parts: the first one defines, elaborates and analyses the concepts of ‘facts’ and ‘value judgement’ including its historical roots. The second part then examines how judgments and policy prescription on the basis of ‘facts’ and ‘value’ differ and issues involved in evaluation of alternatives taking distinctive notions of facts and values as paradigm. The penultimate part then tries to elaborate and examine whether economics is really a value free policy-science, including some insights into how important theoretical concepts in economics fare on this question. I conclude with some final observations.

1. Hume’s Guillotine

1.1        Let me first start by making the ideas and the meanings of these two concepts clearer. There are many words/phrases which have been used since long to make and claim the distinction between the two concepts of ‘fact’ and ‘value’, and these will be used by me also, often interchangeably in this essay. The table below makes the so called dichotomy clearer:

The Distinction and The Dichotomy
Fact Value (judgement)
Positive Normative
Is Ought
Objective Subjective
Engineering approach Ethical approach
Science Art
Descriptive Prescriptive
True-False Good-Bad
Means Ends
Declarative statements Prescriptive evaluations


Let me have the following statement using the phrases from the table above, to elucidate the meaning even further:

A ‘fact’ or ‘is’ statement is something which is materially true or false – it asserts something about the state of the world

A ‘value’ or ‘ought’ statement is something which approves or disapproves, often prescribes, and it is an expression about evaluation of the state of the world. 

1.2        It was David Hume, who almost 275 years ago, in his famous ‘Treatise on Human Nature’ made the distinction stating that “one cannot deduce ought from is”. This meant that we cannot infer norms, prescription and other ethical recommendations from factual, descriptive and objective statements. Such factual statements can only lead us to other factual and descriptive statements. Most people can readily distinguish questions concerning (non-moral) facts from questions concerning what is good or bad or what ought or ought not to be done. However, it is often difficult to make this notion precise (Hausman, 2006) and making a water tight distinction may not be very logical.

This water-tight and sharp logical distinction made by Hume between ‘fact’ and ‘value’ has often been called ‘Hume’s Guillotine’ reminding us of the sharp, scary edges of the guillotines so effectively and efficiently employed during French Revolution in separating human heads from their bodies!

1.3        In modern times, the issue of fact versus value has engaged social scientists and philosophers alike. Hilary Putnam emphasize as to how the idea of an absolute dichotomy between fact and value was from the beginning dependent upon a second dichotomy of ‘analytic’ and ‘synthetic’ judgement and that these two dichotomies ‘facts versus value judgement’ and ‘facts versus analytic truth’ have corrupted our thinking about both ethical reasoning and description of the world, not least of all by preventing us from seeing how evaluation and description are interwoven and interdependent (Putnam, 2002).

1.4       Coming to the Economics, positive economics has been said to be concerned about ‘facts’ whereas normative economics has been about ‘values’ or about what ought to be done. However, this poses perhaps the most important question for a policy science like economics as to whether ‘ends’ or ‘values’ can or cannot be rationally discussed. In other words, whether the notion of rationality can be applicable to normative questions? And these issues have been hotly debated in economics for decades.

Interestingly and insightfully enough, Amartya Sen identifies two rather different origins of economics, both related to politics, concerned respectively with ‘ethics’ on the one hand and with what he has called  ‘engineering’ on the other (Sen, 1987). For Sen, the ethical question is broadly ‘How should one live’ that is, concerning with ultimate ‘ends’, whereas the engineering question mostly concerns with logistical issues, and finding appropriate ‘means’ to serve the ends.

In light of above, the next question I examine is the issues, ideas, relevancy and usefulness of policy analysis and judgement on the basis of maintaining such a distinction.

2. Judgement and Policy Prescription on the Basis of ‘Facts’ and ‘Values’

2.1        As of now, the standard view maintains that questions of facts and questions of value are not only distinguishable, but are independent too. No question concerning value is supposed to be settled by the facts alone and similarly, no question concerning facts is supposed to be settled by value. Therefore, it is possible to have a value free inquiry in to questions of facts.

However, I argue that at a deeper philosophical level, the distinction of fact and value is largely misleading. To speak of a value free inquiry may be misleading, because it suggests that the conduct of the inquiry is value free, which possibly cannot be true. Inquiring involves actions and actions are driven by values. Value influences choices of what methods to employ and consequently of what hypotheses to discard or to pursue. And therefore, it does not make much sense to talk of value free inquiry. On the other hand, there are economists who argue that value free inquire is an inquiry into a question of fact or of logic in which the answers are not influenced by any value except those that are part of scientific activity itself (Hausman, 2006).

2.2       Investigations into matters of facts (positive investigations) are relevant to policy because these results may show the effectiveness or otherwise of the policies designed to attain certain objective. And we must be careful here in noting that the objectives are value criterion, set on the basis of some value judgment and normative considerations.

Many economist agree that part of economics (normative economics) is concerned with value and ethics, but that ethics is not relevant for another branch of economics – the positive economics of factual analysis and theorising which represent, explain and predict how economic system function. This is the same as making a distinction between fact and value aspects of social inquiry. On the other hand, it is also claimed that without reference and understanding of moral and value based questions, economists, especially those involved in policy advice, would not be able to formulate clear and relevant technical questions for positive investigation.

2.3      J.S. Mill also made a distinction between what he called ‘science’ and ‘art’ of political economy. He realized that in passing from science to the art, extra-scientific, ethical premises necessarily make their appearances, and that non-economic elements borrowed from other social sciences were required in addition to value judgement to give meaningful advice on practical problems (Marc Blaug, 1992).

2.4       To examine the issue still deeply and to further clarify, we may make a distinction between what is called Characterizing Value Judgement or Methodological decisions, which involves choosing more or less factual questions, like what to be investigated, mode of investigation and criteria for judging the validity of findings etc. Next comes the Apprising Value Judgement or Normative decisions which includes details and evaluative criteria for different state of the worlds and desirability or otherwise of certain social and economic outcomes, including certain types of human actions and behaviours. Thus, all desires and statements about an ideal or good society are Apprising or Normative value judgement, which plays a part even in positive analysis and investigation of policy issue.

This brings us to the issue of how these two types of judgements can be reconciled. It is generally accepted that there are long-established, well-tried methods for reconciling different methodological options, whereas, on the other hand, such methods for reconciling normative value judgement are not readily found. The only way, and now most widely accepted method for deciding and reconciling value judgments and normative questions is largely a field of inquiry considered separate from economics – politics and democratic political elections.

However, we may be making the distinction between methodological/factual and value judgement too sharp again, which has been so effectively emphasized by Hilary Putnam in his book (Putnam, 2002). Holding a view that normative issues are not amenable to rational discussion aiming for reconciling differences between people is not necessary. We should be able to note that ‘ises’ often influence the ‘ought’, as I have already pointed out above. In other words, what values we hold is almost always depends on and is derived from a large number of factual believes and experiences. Therefore, we indeed can have a rational debate on a normative value question. An example could be the normative question of how much inequality a society or a nation should tolerate and once a decision has been taken, a value judgement has been arrived at; the methodological or factual question of how to achieve that may well be tackled much easily. Nevertheless, the issue of whether such important question of acceptable level of inequality and distribution of wealth among citizen should be decided by the most widely accepted method for deciding value and ethical issues today being democratic political process (election) remains an open question.

2.5       I would like to point out that it was Paul Samuelson who in his famous ‘Foundations’ (1947) gave prominence to the idea that society, expressing itself through its political representatives, does in fact compare the utilities of different individuals, these comparisons are, so to speak, recorded in a social welfare function that aggregates the preferences of individual in a social ranking of states of the economy. However, I may again note that even the political process is no guarantee that we would be able to decide and implement a less skewed distribution program. Some of my readers may note that this desire of a less unequal society of mine is in itself a value judgement of mine! I would here like to bring Amartya Sen in my defence, who argued that economics, as it stands today, can be made more productive by paying greater and more explicit attention to the ethical considerations that shape human behaviour and judgement (Sen, 1987).

2.6       To help us move forward, I found a further distinction and guiding principle made by Amartya Sen very useful and insightful (Sen, 1970). He exhorts us to distinguish between ‘basic’ and ‘non-basic’ type of value judgments. Mark Blaug (1992) prefers to call them ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ value judgement. A basic value judgement is supposed to apply under all conceivable circumstances to a person, which non-basic value judgement is not. In case of non-basic value judgment, an appeal to the facts of the case, which are generally less divisive – may be made and a decision should be arrived at on that basis. Amartya Sen recommends that through this method, once we reach at a pure value judgement stage, only then it may be accepted that we have exhausted all the possibility of rational discussion and analysis. However, we also need to appreciate that this methodology of Sen may not be able to settle some value judgement issues in full, especially in the cases of social or macro normative issues, like the one on inequality mentioned in the aforementioned paragraph. Nevertheless, I am tempted to agree to Professor Sen to a large extent, as most value judgement on social questions are generally impure and therefore are amenable to the above approach.

However, even with the above ideas, the basic question of difference between ‘fact’ and ‘value’ or (pure value judgement and factual statements) remains, though it may be said that the difference is more of a degree than of a kind. But, even if of degree, we should not be content with it. This brings us to the perhaps the most important question: Is social science value free? Or for my purpose, Is Economics a value-free and objective field of inquiry?

2.7       There were attempts by economists and thinkers like John Cairnes and John Neville Keynes (please note, he is father of his famous son, John Maynard Keynes) to distinguish three types of inquiries, 1. Positive Science, 2. Normative or Regulative Science and 3. Arts. Art was meant to be a system of rules for attainment of given ends. However, these ideas of considering normative science as a bridge between positive science and arts did not gain currency. Most economists clung to the dichotomous distinction of positive and normative science. And we also move forward with the two fold distinction as our primary tool of further analysis.

3. Is Economics “Wertfreiheit” (Value-free)

Wertfreiheit is a German word, pronounced “wet-pri-heit” (this is the closest I could get to the pronunciation with the help of my friend who is an expert in German). It was first used by Max Weber implying something like ‘freedom from value’ and Mark Blaug (1992) uses it in that sense in his book on methodology of economics.

3.1        To start with, the question of whether economics (or for that matter other social sciences) is value free or not, we need to recollect the assertion made in the previous paragraphs of the essay. Let me repeat that: Factual, descriptive, ‘is’-statement is different in kind from that of normative, prescriptive, ‘ought’ statement. Further, the methodological judgement required for ‘is’-statements are different from those required to reach a consensus on ‘ought’-statement being normative value judgement.

3.2       One of the most interesting and relevant attack on wertfreiheit is by Robert Heilbroner (1973), who emphasize that the most important difference between social and physical sciences sprout due to the fact that human actions are subject to ‘latent wilfulness’ and ‘conscious purposiveness’. These characteristics which are thus part of social sciences make them subjective unless meaningful assumptions are made about them. Further, economists, as well as other social scientists cannot help being emotionally involved with the society of which they are members. He further argues that due to this extreme vulnerability to value judgement, economist cannot be impartial or disinterested. Thus, value judgement, partly of a sociological kind, partly with respect to behaviour; have infused economics from its earliest statements to its latest and most sophisticated representation (Heilbroner, 1973). In the end, he declares that he did not believe that economist should aim at value-free analysis. Since economist perform very few experiments that can be rerun in a laboratory, their results cannot be so easily falsified as those of the natural scientists, but they can be equally subject to scrutiny and criticism in the forum of expert opinion like natural sciences.

3.3       We should further analyse the term ‘value judgment’ here to place the ideas in perspective, and compare it with ideas and theories generated by such visions, as well as un-testable statement of facts. For example, let me talk about the concept of utility theory in its most modern form, including its ordinality and preference ordering, wherein the impossibility of interpersonal comparison of utility has long been taken as a value judgement. And therefore, it has been held that such interpersonal comparisons cannot play any meaningful role in welfare economics (which is considered scientific with its framework of Pareto Optimality and related concepts). As such, the belief that an individual’s preferences and ordering can be considered and analysed only for that individual, without any interpersonal comparison, aggregation or social application, has taken economics further away from the important question of analysing and making judgement and categorical policy recommendations on income and wealth inequality and resulting loss of social welfare as aggregation of individual welfare. But is it really the case that utility concepts are ‘value judgement’? Or is it only an untestable statement of ‘facts’. If so, interpersonal comparison may either be true or false – a facet of factual realm and not of value judgement, where the real problem is that we do not have any method of knowing that. So taking interpersonal comparison of utility as a value judgement is not convincing. It is ironic to note that so much of economics has been built on this assertion that interpersonal comparisons of utility are not possible! The eschewing of distributional question in welfare economics and starting the welfare analysis from the premise of a ‘given’ endowment of wealth is again a result of this unfortunate dichotomy between ‘fact’ and ‘value judgement’.

3.4       Lionel Robbins has been credited with persuading economics profession that interpersonal comparisons of utility are meaningless. He strongly held that rational discussion (argument) is impossible in ethics (value judgement) and therefore such questions must be kept out of economics (Robbins, 1935). With one stroke,  the idea that the economist could and should be concerned  with the welfare of the society in an evaluative sense was rejected, and in its place was inserted the positivist idea that such a concern was meaningless at least from the scientific point of view (Putnam, 2002)

So, can we claim that it is possible to put normative questions to rational discussion, reconciliation and resolution? I would say, yes. As I have pointed out above in case of inequality, social welfare and utility maximization, such concepts and questions can be addressed with rational arguments. In these cases, experiments are not possible, and for positive economics also, as we have already noted, (laboratory type) experiments are rarely possible. (I may note the latest trend in development economics of what is called Randomized Control Trials (RCT)- a new evaluation and monitoring techniques – which claims to be a laboratory type experiment in the actual field of economic policy and program implementation, employing sophisticated statistical and regression techniques. It was one of the important aspect of my studies of International Development degree program at Harvard University, and the professors who actually developed this, were too passionate (and too adamant and inflexible!) about this technique. Anyway, this is not a place to discuss RCT further).

3.5       Let me finish this section with two more observations.

We often loosely identify ideology with value judgement. However, there is a basic distinction between them. Bergman (1968) definition is quite useful here: Ideological statements may be usefully defined as value judgement parading as statements of facts. In this sense, value judgments are not ideological statements, although all ideological statements are disguised value judgments.

Gunnar Myrdal (1970) makes another interesting and relevant point. Instead of ducking the issue of value judgement in economic analysis, he recommends its bold declaration at the outset of the analysis. Thus, there is nothing wrong with the value loaded concepts if they are clearly enumerated and declared as value-premises. Perhaps, for Myrdal, everything that is not statistics is a value judgement. Many would argue that he goes even further and denies existence of any ethically neutral, factual assertion in economics. For him, everything in economics is value impregnated. Thus, he asserts that there cannot be a distinction between a positive and normative economics and to pretend to do so only involves self-deception. This, to me, appears to be too farfetched an idea.

3.6       This essay does not have space to analyse the contribution of Amartya Sen in this ethics and economics arena, which in itself is huge. Sufficient is to say that he very strongly argues for an ethical (and value laden) approach for economics and has sought to challenge the standard economic picture of what economic rationality requires, what the motivations of economic actors can realistically be assumed to be, and what criteria of economic performance and social wellbeing welfare economics can legitimately use (Sen, 1987) (Putnam, 2002). Similarly, I am also not venturing into the ideas of ‘justice’ and ‘minimax’ criteria for defining a social welfare function in terms of John Rawls which are again extension of theoretical constructs of classical economics to ethical and value judgement spheres (Rawls, 1999).

4. Concluding Thoughts

Nothing gets settled regarding the questions of ‘value’ and ‘facts’ when we insist that they are very different and distinct. If we take them to be completely different and independent of one another, then all that we can infer is that the truths about ‘values’ are different kind of truths from the truths about ‘facts’. Concomitantly, it would also follow that the methods for searching and arriving at those truths may then be totally different too. This, however, would in no way imply that there are no truths about value questions -good or bad, about right or wrong etc.

Many economists now agree that there may not be a watertight distinction between positive and normative economics, and similarly there cannot be a watertight distinction between means and ends. Therefore, to declare that everything in economics is value judgement, without examining how and at what stage they enter a piece of economic reasoning is like declaring that economic opinions are simply a matter of personal choice. It is now also accepted that the doubts among many economists and philosophers about the ‘is-ought’ dichotomy is genuine. Moral judgements are not simply expression of feelings or imperative commanding someone to act in a particular fashion, but in most cases, special kinds of descriptive statements about the world.

Although it sounds paradoxical, it is possible to regard normative economics as a positive enquiry into the logical presuppositions and practical means to satisfy preferences efficiently (Hausman, 2006). I would also like to state that economists cannot avoid ethical (or value judgement) questions if they want to understand the terms of policy debate, to select relevant and important issues to analyse, and to help decide the policy direction. Normative economics, if at all we want to name it so, plays an important role in apprising policies and evaluative things, is in practice unavoidable in order to formulate well-defined questions for positive inquiry.

I would like to end with what Mark Blaug (1992) says: There are no empirical, descriptive ‘is’-statements regarded as true that do not rely on a definite social consensus that we ‘ought’ to accept that ‘is’-statement.


  • Bergman G. (1968): Readings in Philosophy of Social Sciences, M. Brodeck (ed.) New York, Macmillan, 1968. pg 123-38
  • Blaug Mark (1992): The Methodology of Economics: Or How Economists Explain,2nd ed, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; ch 5, various pages
  • Hausman Daniel M. & McPherson Michael S. (2006): Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy(2nd) Cambridge University Press, New York, pg 291-296
  • Heilbroner Robert L. (1973): Economics as a Value Free Science, Social Research 40, Reprinted in Marr and Raj – 1983, pg 337-74
  • Myrdal Gunnar (1970): Objectivities in Social Research; Gerald Duckworth, London
  • Putnam Hilary (2002): The Collapse of Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays; Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. pg 1-3, 49-50, 54-55
  • Rawls John (1999): A Theory of Justice (Revised Ed.); Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • Robbins Lionel (1935): An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Sciences. Macmillan, London. pg 134, quoted by Amartya Sen On Ethics and Economics
  • Samuelson Paul (1983): Foundations of Economic Analysis; (Enlarged ed); Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • Sen Amartya (1970): Collective Choices and Social Welfare;Oliver & Boyd, Edinberg
  • Sen Amartya (1987): On Ethics and Economics; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pg 3-4, 11-12


Cleaning the Rust from the ‘Steel Frame of India’ : (1) The Structure and Civil Services

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Kennedy School Review- 2011, the annual magazine/journal of Harvard Kennedy School published  an essay by me on the issue of reforming the organized cadre-based higher civil services in India (what we in India popularly know as IAS, IPS and others). Writing and finalizing the essay was an experience in itself, as what I initially wrote was well beyond the word limit, and I had to go through around 10-15 iterations before it was finalized. My editor was a merciless guy, not ready to listen to me! In the end, though the essay was much curtailed, I was happy with the result. It was a short and crisp piece, and in the process I learned too.

In my previous blogs, I have repeatedly pointed out that the institutional and governance reforms are one of the crucial steps which our country needs the most at this juncture to move to the next level of growth path. In that sense, civil services reforms are now the ‘binding constraint’ shackling the growth of our country (and in particular my state – Bihar).

In these blog-essays on reforming the higher civil services in India, I propose to follow what I have written in 2011 for Kennedy School Review, with suitable addition, expansion and revision. This first part basically explains the structure and constitution of the services and its various branches, including the selection process.

I must point out that the original essay was written for US/non-Indian audience, and therefore, things were explained starting from the basics. In that sense, to many of my Indian readers in general, and to my civil servant colleagues in particular, this part of the essay may appear somewhat familiar. Nevertheless, I would like them to go through it patiently (this part is now almost 4500 words long), as I think, it contains useful insights. WordPress statistics tells me that a significant proportion of my blog readers are from outside India, and therefore, I am maintaining the basic explanations.

It is difficult to structure the essays in advance, but tentatively, I would be covering the following issues in this and subsequent essay, one part per essay:

A. The Structure and ‘Services’

B. Induction and Recruitment

C. Meritocracy or Mediocracy?

D. ‘Services’ – Roles, Functions and Reorganization

So, Here we go….

1. Getting into World’s Best Universities is like a Cake-Walk in comparison…

Have we ever wondered as to what is the most difficult and most competitive selection process in the world for getting a job or a seat in a university? It is India’s Civil Services Examination which recruits permanent higher civil servants for different branches of the federal as well as state governments’ bureaucracy. One of my professors at Harvard University has rightly observed that the Indian civil service is full of officers who have passed an entrance examination and selection process that makes getting into Harvard look like a walk in the park[1].

Though I think that the comparison cannot strictly be made. There are various factors which make it like comparing apple to oranges. First, comparing a competitive examination for job with that of a selection for admission to a university degree in not in order. Next, socio-cultural and economic situation in USA and India are completely different. Clearly, there is a huge resources and opportunity deficit in India, which has a bearing on educational and job scenario. Further, we in India hardly make any ‘self-selection’ while taking competitive examination, and it is quite common to find large number of non-serious candidates appearing in UPSC and other competitive job examinations, often without much preparation, which obviously is not the case in USA.

Furthermore, this tendency is more pronounced in cow-belt in general, and in Bihar in particular, where huge number of young spent their precious productive years appearing in competitive examination without much preparation or thought. I sometime think that it is a favorite pass-time of Bihari’s graduate! On a serious note, lack of industrial and commercial development and progressive decline of agriculture resulting into dearth of employment opportunities, coupled with socio-cultural preference for government job (which in our country is secure, low risk and mostly keeps paying without any consideration to performance) is a driving factor towards this mad-rush for taking competitive examination to find any type of government job.

Consider this: The latest figures (available at the time of original essay in 2011) shows that every year around 380-400 thousand young Indians compete through a fair, open, meritocratic three stage intensely competitive examination process for around 600-800 vacancies in higher bureaucracy – making a selection ratio of around 1 in 600 candidates[2]! The examination has rightly been called not a ‘selection’ but a ‘rejection’ process! In India, higher civil service is one the most popular career options for some of the brightest young Indians graduating from universities – with degrees in management, engineering, law, science, social science, liberal arts, medicine and what not, with widely varying social, economic and regional background[3]. If looked purely in terms of monetary rewards, a career in civil service would not compete very favorably with other careers in business management, consulting, software, technology or medicine. Despite this, it attracts some of the best talents in India from all sections of the society mainly because of highly rich job content and diversity of responsibilities, social recognition and prestige associated with being in civil services, and an opportunity to work in areas of development, provision of public goods and general administration of the country. In fact, a person joining the career bureaucracy can aspire to reach the highest level of government machinery just below Ministers (political executives, who are elected members of Parliament) as, contrary to USA, political discretionary appointment of higher executives by Ministers does not exist in India.

The recruitment for civil services are managed by an independent constitutional body called ‘Union Public Service Commission’ which conducts annual examination and personality tests for selecting suitable young candidates. Any Indian with an undergraduate degree in any academic discipline, between the ages of 21 to 30 years can appear for the first stage called the ‘preliminary’ examination, at the most 4 times[4]. If selected, she can then appear in the ‘mains’ examination and on further being successful; she is called for an interview and personality test. The final selection is made on the basis of performance in mains examination and personality test and an all India merit list is finalized.

Since I wrote the above paragraph in 2011, the selection process has undergone some changes, the ‘preliminary’ examination is replaced by what is now called ‘CSAT – civil services aptitude test’, but essentially, the nature, content and difficulty of the examination remains the same. Further, the number of candidates appearing for the examination has continuously been increasing year after year despite claims from various quarters that the attraction of higher civil services is waning with the overall growth of the economy and increasing opportunities. There might be some truth in this claim too – and we need deeper analysis of this – especially with respect to the socio-economic strata of the candidates taking up the examination and also examining the variations in regional, rural-urban and educational background and their time series movements

Successful candidates are allocated to different ‘branches’ of the service on the basis of their rank in merit list and their choices. Every year, successful candidates receive wide public attention, with their interviews coming in national, regional and local print and electronic media, they being invited for talks and for providing guidance to the aspirants etc. The wide popularity of civil services has helped development of large number of coaching/guidance institutions all over India, and there are localities in metros like Delhi which are buzzing with students living in small rented hostel-like cramped private accommodations preparing for intense and exacting selection process. Alas! only a small fraction of them ultimately get successful and for others, the failure (in many cases, after investing 3-4 precious years of their youth) often haunts them for quite long, though they ultimately have to settled for alternative careers.

I would like to further highlight the piquant ‘uncertainty’ and ‘risk’ characteristics of civil services examination, which makes it a very interesting situation to examine from risk analytics. The uncertainly involved in selection are very high – as I have already pointed out – only 1 in 1000 or so candidate gets selected through the grueling process, and one iteration of the process takes one year. General candidates are allowed 4 chances, up to the age of 30 years. I have known large number of my friends and others who have invested 4 precious and most productive years of their lives preparing for civil services examination ultimately to be unsuccessful. Some of them got through other competitive examination and have been redeemed to that extent. Some, after failures opted for other types of private sector jobs, and some became entrepreneur and businessmen. However, some of them are still not well settled and in that sense have paid heavily by taking this risk.

But the main point I want to make here is something different. It is about the contrast in risk before and after selection. Take this – I have not heard of any civil servant who has been fired for non-performance! Once you are selected, your career is almost risk fee – whether you work or not, whatever be your performance, you will keep on getting promotions (mostly) on time, keep moving up in the hierarchy and your salary will keep getting higher and higher with each promotion. Ok… I may be exaggerating a bit. But more or less, the situation is not very different from what I have described. We often hear that donkeys and horses are treated the same in government in India and that’s the real point. The subsequent parts of the essay will talk about this issue, and therefore, we stop here with my concluding observation on risk in civil services examination:

I see a very interesting application of economic concept of risk-aversion and inter-temporal preference for risk in this situation and a deep insight into why so many take that risk:  take very high risk for 3-4 years in the beginning to get an almost-risk-free life for subsequent 30-35 years.

2. Governance, Bureaucracies and Civil Services in India

Governments have been one of the most important institutions of our society ever since the human civilizations organized themselves in recognizable and manageable groups. In today’s era, the role and responsibilities of government is immense for organizing and managing a society on mutually agreed principles of humanity and a civilized society bound by principle of freedom, justice and liberty and independence to individual. With such responsibilities, national and sub-national (regional) governments in different countries are often gigantic organizations, largest employer, and are usually organized into different ministries, line departments, and executive agencies carrying out the myriad functions of national administration and security, maintenance of law and order, raising of revenues and provisioning of public goods with varying level of involvement in economic and social development efforts and in facilitating and regulating the markets, industry, trade and commerce. Whether the scope for state activities are large or small, which depend on historical, social, cultural, economic and political factors, they need public institutions, administrative structure and resources to carry out even the minimal function of governance.

Typically the government institutions are bureaucratic, which are often characterized as ill suited to cope with its task and purposes – as they are too big, powerful, hierarchical, rule-bound, indifferent to results, inefficient, lazy, incompetent, wasteful, inflexible, unaccountable[5] and what not! However, this perception often fails to see the fundamental difference between a public and private organization – the most crucial of them perhaps being the accountability to public at large and public service nature of administration. Further, bureaucracies have been reinventing themselves, and despite such strong criticism, they have not only survived but also have grown and evolved in many respects[6]. Without further going into issues like debureaucratization, postbureaucratic forms, New Public Management etc., it may in short be noted that in past two decade or so, there has been perceptible change in the way government departments and bureaucracy operates and there has been improvement in some crucial areas.

‘Steel Frame of India’ was the phrase late Jawaharlal Nehru used to describe the organized civil service of India. Though it was a British legacy and Nehru was skeptical of it in the beginning, he came to appreciate that a highly qualified, professional and meritocratic civil service institution would, perhaps, be an important factor in making a successful transition of India from a backward nation to a prosperous country. As it turned out, though the transition may not yet has been achieved after more than 65 years of independence, the civil services, as a professionally managed cadre of bureaucrats has evolved as one of the pivotal institution of the democratic India. It has even been identified as one of the important factors behind the deepening of democracy and consolidation of the idea of India[7]. In the parliamentary democracy of India, where the political executive come and go through regular general elections, the executive civil service is permanent providing much needed continuity, knowledge pool, expertise and professionalism to better manage a vast and diverse country. Though responsible and answerable to political executive, the administrative and institutional structure of civil service is not dependent on the whims and fancies of the political class, thus providing a fine example of check and balances, together with independent judiciary and free press.

Indian civil servants are not only administrators of India – they run district/local administration, collect revenue and taxes, maintain internal security & law and order, run school education and public healthcare facilities, execute developmental programs, manage foreign relations, regulate the markets and other economic institutions, even run railway and broadcasting corporation; but are also policy makers – economic, social and developmental – manning almost all the higher level posts in federal and state government ministries. In a sense, they are virtually present everywhere in national polity and administration. Their roles and responsibilities get augmented in the developing country setting of India.

Governments (Union and States) in India are the largest organized sector employer, employing as much as 10.5 million people directly (excluding the armed forces), most of whom are permanent. On the whole, federal government employs around 3.7 million persons, out of which around 1.5 million are with railways and 0.4 million with posts alone. All 29 states governments together employs another 6.8 million persons. Out of 10.5 million government employees with Central and State government, the higher managerial level (which may be equated with what in India is called Group A officers) forms only around 1% (around 100,000) and out of this, around 1/3 constitutes civil services (with which we are concerned here). The remaining 2/3 constitutes what generally is called managerial/professional cadre of ‘technical services’ like medical doctors, scientists, engineers in roads, buildings, public health, scientific and research and infrastructural departments, etc.

To be more specific, the civil service institution is organized on hierarchical lines with well-defined structure, process, roles and responsibilities and methods. In governmental structure, four broad hierarchies of employees are defined. They are called (quite unimaginatively) group A, B, C and D level employees, with D being the lowest. Within each group, there are again hierarchies and levels.  Generally group A and B category posts are managerial level positions, and Group C and D categories provide the crucial executive and clerical support. However, recently, government of India has decided to abolish the lowest group D (in fact this group has been merged with group C) and has also decided that it would henceforth be employing only people with at least high school education[8].

In terms of numbers, as we have seen above, group A forms around 1% of total employees. Further, around 10% forms group B, around 55-60% are in group C and remaining 30-34% are in group D[9]. Recruitment of group B (and some group C) federal government employees is done by another national agency called ‘Staff Selection Commission’ through open competitive examination process for different ministries/department. In case of state government civil services, all the states have their own ‘Public Service Commissions’ which recruits civil servants for group B and C, mostly through open competitive examinations. Recruitment of group D (as well as group C) employees is generally decentralized to respective departments/executive agencies. Direct recruitment of young people through open competition examinations is made at entry level of each group. In addition, at each level, some proportion of recruitment is made from amongst promotion of employees belonging to immediately lower level on the basis of seniority, which varies anywhere from 25% to 75%. The idea behind is to have a mix of not only young people but also experienced people at all levels in the hierarchy. This structure coupled with permanent employment and seniority based promotions also ensures proper career progression and promotional opportunities.

3. Branches of  Senior Civil ‘Services’ : Preferred and Leftovers

Due to limitation of space and the importance of the highest civil services, we would be analyzing only the highest level in some detail. There are many ‘branches’ of the higher civil services, which should not be confused with Department, as they often transcend them. Branches, called ‘services’, are organized cadre of civil servants (officers, not agencies) grouped largely on the basis of broad functional areas. Thus, we have services named Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Revenue Service (IRS), etc, members of each of which generally spend most of their career in the respective functional areas in different line departments and executive agencies as well as in policy making ministries (except for IAS – who are considered generalist and span a wide functional domain). Nevertheless, they can be (and indeed do get) assigned to post/responsibility in many other functional areas. Table below gives a snapshot of the various services and their broad functions. The list is not exhaustive, as in fact, there are around 25 different ‘services’ totaling to around 40,000 officers, some of them being very small, created for some specialized functional requirements. IAS is the most prominent branch, being in charge of virtually all the state government functions and widely present at federal government ministries. IAS, IPS and IFoS are assigned to various state governments and work in state level line departments in areas assigned to states, other services being managed by federal government and performing functions assigned to federal government in accordance with division of power enshrined in Constitution of India.

Main Branches of the Permanent Executive Civil Services in India

Branch/Services Apprx. Nos. Main functions
Indian Administrative Service (IAS) 6000 The most important and most widely known service. District and Local administration, State level general and developmental administration – please note that in India, most of the administrative and developmental functions are performed by states, and thus IAS officers work at leadership roles in vast array of functional domains. They also work at senior position in policies, regulations and management at Central government organizations.
Indian Revenue Service (IRS) 8000 Revenue collection of federal government – all taxes, customs duties etc.  further sub-divided into two branch – Income Tax, and Customs & Excise (IRS-IT) and (IRS-CE), with no movement across these two branches. (Note that IRS do not man state tax department (VAT or commercial taxes)). Further, the huge size of this service compare to others is a distinctive feature. With the impending introduction of GST, there are serious questions about the role of IRS-CE in the overall scheme of things (this issue will be taken up separately in subsequent parts of this essay)
Indian Police Service (IPS) 5000 Policing, Law and Order management, internal security, public safety, public order and peace, crime, investigation and intelligence, supervision of para-military forces.
Indian Forest Service (IFoS)* 2800 Environment, forest and management of flora and fauna, mainly at state and district governments
Indian Railways Services : (IRTS), (IRPS), (IRAS) 2800 Management of civil functions (as opposed to technical/engineering ) of the railways operations;  three branch services – Traffic, Personnel and Accounts called IRTS, IRPS, and IRAS
Accounts Services: (ICAS), (IDAS) (IPTAFS) 1200 Accounts, Treasury and financial management of Federal government; branches – Indian Civil Accounts Service,  Indian Defense Accounts Service, and  Indian Post and Telegraph Accounts and Finance Service.
Indian Audit and Accounts  Service (IAAS) 800 Constitutional independent auditor of the government – central as well as states, also management of accounts of state governments
Indian Foreign Service (IFS) 700 Diplomatic and foreign relations, in-charge of foreign ministry, embassies, consulates etc., and responsible for protecting and advancing India’s interest in the world
Indian Postal Service (IPoS) 600 In charge of India postal organization
Indian Information Service (IIS) 500 Looking after Information and Broadcasting ministry, in-charge of Doordarshan, Air India and similar other organization
Indian Trade Service 400 National and International trade and commerce – regulation and promotion
Indian Economic Service* 700 Economic management, economic analysis and policy, present in various federal ministries and economic adviser
Indian Statistical Service* 600 Data collection, analysis and dissemination. Mainly in central statistical organizations
Indian Defense Estate Services <500 Managing defense estate and properties
Central Secretariat Service Gp B <1000 Group B service running all the central ministries, mostly below IAS
Delhi and Andaman Nicobar Civil Services Gr B <400 Group B services akin to IAS for Union territories, including Delhi
Delhi and Andaman Nicobar Police Service Gr B <400 Group B service akin to IPS for Union territories, including Delhi

Source: Compiled from Information available at Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India website, http://www.persmin.nic.in

*Strictly speaking, these services should not be included in this list, because there is a separate specialized examination for selection into these (though the examination is conducted by UPSC only). However, they are still included in the organized Group A civil service by Government.

We are also leaving out a large section of other ‘technical services’ which are again in itself a large group of different ‘technical’ (mainly engineering) branches like Indian Railway Engineering Service, Indian Telecom Service etc. They manage most of the technical function of the government, but are supervised on top by mostly IAS officers, which is again a contentious issue. Traditionally and officially, they are not considered as a part of ‘Civil Services’.

Distinction may also be made of what is called “All India Service” (comprising of IAS, IPS and IFoS) and “Central Services” comprising all other branches. The basic feature of this distinction being that All India services work mostly with state government (though also with Central government) whereas Central Services officers work exclusively (though there may be exception) with central government organizations/ministry. I am not entering into the merits or demerits of such a distinction, which will be take up later on.

These separate branches act as separate ‘cadre’ for the purpose of service management like seniority, career progression, promotions, performance management, postings and rotation etc, though there is also an underlying structure to maintain parity among services in such matters. Promotions are mainly based on seniority, with the condition that an officer has been performing above a certain minimum benchmark – judged on the basis of her annual performance report prepared by her superior, and has not been found involved in corrupt practices or unfit due to other reasons.  There are equivalent ‘grades’ in the hierarchy across different services with stipulation of minimum eligibility in terms of number of years of service rendered to be eligible for promotion. However, the ‘designation’ varies depending upon the organization, ministry and the level of government (federal or state) a bureaucrat is working for. These hierarchies of career progression are functional with different levels of administrative responsibilities and it is possible to identify these with Henry Mintzberg’s famous Five Component Model[10] having levels of Junior, Middle and Higher Management levels along with Strategic Apex.

The above list is not exhaustive, and there are few more services with small cadre, which have been created by Government of India at different times. Further, the number of officers is only approximate, and the reality may be slightly different, specially in case of smaller services for which I have used < sign. The last three services in the table are Group B services, who generally are junior to IAS, though are recruited through the same examination.

As can be seen, except for few well know services, there  are other services which have been created for specialized purpose and have been confined to a ministry. These services are rarely known, not much preferred by the candidates appearing in the examination (IAS being the most preferred choice, followed by IFS, IPS and now IRS too, generally in that order). In a sense, all those candidates being allocated to less preferred services face a vastly different job prospects, responsibilities and future outlook, and it is an important issues which I will discuss in detail later.

Nevertheless, I might point out the hegemonic position of IAS vis-a-vis other services, and the resulting widespread discontent in other services due to this. IAS being generalist service, occupying top level posts in most domains are inherently different from other services, which are specialsed in nature. However, since all of them are recruited through the same examination process where a marginal difference of few marks has played in the allocation of different branches, and where all branches are in principal have same rank and pay, this real difference in career profile of IAS and non-IAS is all the more resented. It is an important issue and I will be saying more on it later


[1] Pritchett Lant (2009): Is India a Flailing State? Detours on the Four Lane Highway to Modernization; Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series, RWP09-013, May 2009, pg 3

[2] Union Public Service Commission (2010): 60th (2009-10) Annual Report; UPSC, Government of India, http://www.upsc.gov.in

[3] Barik R R (2004): Social Background of Civil Service, Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai, India; Vol 39, No. 7, February 14, 2004

[4] There is positive discrimination for socially disadvantaged sections of society in terms of higher number of attempts and higher cut-off age limit as well as certain quota of seats reserved for them.

[5] Oslen Johan (2008): The Ups and Downs of Bureaucratic Organization; The Annual Review of Political Science, 2008.11:13-37,

[6] Simon Herbert (1997): Administrative Behavior – A Study of Decision Making Process in Administrative Organizations, 4th Ed,  The Free Press, New York, Ch. 1,2 and Comments on Ch.1, 2

[7] Guha Ramchandra (2007): Indian After Gandhi – A History of World’s Largest Democracy, Harper Perennial, New York,  p755

[8] Government of India (2008): Report of the VIth Central Pay Commission, Government of India, New Delhi.

The decision to recruit people with only high school (10th grade) education (and outsource jobs which require lesser or no education) has been protested and criticized, on the grounds of it being iniquitous and elitist, as it leaves the less educated to the vagaries of unorganized sector and private sector employment, which is widely (and correctly) seen as exploitative. The argument has some merit as access to universal school education in India is still far away – and children have widely differing opportunity for access and quality of schooling which is closely correlated with their socio-economic status.

[9] Based on Census of Central Government Employees (2003), Ministry of Labor, Government of India and other documents; available on http://www.labour.nic.in

[10] Henery Mintzberg (1979): The Structuring of Organizations, Prentice Hall, Engelwood Cliffs, N.J. pp 215-297 and “Organization Design: Fashion of Fit?”, Harvard Business Review 59, Jan-Feb 1981,


Social Choice in Bihar (5): Public Institutions, Governance and Development


In this last piece on social choice, development and democracy in Bihar, I would first touch upon a very important, perhaps now the most important issue, impinging on the development of Bihar – the governance and administration, before commenting on last two assembly elections and making some concluding observations.

Decline of Political and Public Institutions and ‘Governance Failure’

Institutions, especially political and public institutions are perhaps the most important determinant of long term growth and development once certain basic requirement are fulfilled. Especially in the case of Bihar, it is now increasingly clear that political and public institutions of the state have been the instruments and often the battleground over which the larger discourse of social and economic power has played out.

It can be claimed with certainty that the political and administrative institutions of the state have been made weaker over past fifty years by the nature of politics played in Bihar. One of the most important sign of this is the increased criminalization of politics. And it has been in the making for very long time. There have been claims, mostly convincing, that in the cow-bet, this decline in political institutions started before independence, when the local Congress leaders got the first shot at political and executive power in 1935. In post-independence Bihar, before the rise of Lalu, it would not be an exaggeration to say that upper caste criminals often dominated the political scene. With the rise of Lalu, criminals from Yadav castes as well as from Muslim community started to dominate the scene. In that sense, Lalu’s social justice was only rhetoric, in reality the state power was captured, as has always been the case, by the ruling political elites of the state. However, I must hasten to add that during the past ten years, the trend has been towards decline in the  active role and power of criminal elements in politics, though much is yet to be done.

Perhaps, even more important is the gradual decline in the administrative institutions and governance structure in Bihar since independence. And past ten years do not show any improvement on this count! The most important challenge facing Bihar today is that of governance, running the state machinery and of delivering public services. Bihar appears to be the classic example of what economist Lant Pritchett says “a flailing state” (Pritchett, 2009). I would certainly claim that, if not earlier, certainly now, governance is, to use a term from optimization theory, the ‘binding constraint’ in Bihar. This claim is made despite the rosy picture of phenomenal growth rate of Bihar  for past 10 years (The latest Economic Survey of Bihar of 2016 claims it to be more than 10% per annum continuously over past 10 years, certainly a commendable achievement). I will not analyse this “governance” story of Bihar here (May be, it should form another series for my blog). However, it must be pointed out that despite all the growth and recognition of Nitish Kumar as ‘shushasan babu’ (good-governance man), the administrative structure and institutions of Bihar are in tatters. I will cite only one case which is sufficient to paint the picture of administrative decay of Bihar: A newspaper in 2014 reported a case of corpse of an infant lying unattended in PMCH campus (the best medical college and hospital in Bihar) and stray dogs trying to make it their food! Truly horrible. What is more, I distinctly remember reading same news 20 years ago when I was in college. And this might have been the case even 40-45 years ago too. So where are public institutions and governance structure, how are organizations being run, what kind of public services are being provided? Where the fabulous growth of 10% per annum is coming from and where the benefits of such growth is going, when the basic healthcare deliver systems are in such a pathetic state?  This solitary case of PMCH is sufficient to nullify all the growth story of Bihar, and such a sorry state of affairs is a shame for all of us, especially those who are responsible for running the state, its administration and public services.

Understandably, this gradual decay in public institutions and political system has brought a tremendous change in the Bihar’s countryside in last three four decades. The landed classes of the past have given way to a combination of groups – political functionaries, government officials, contractors, professionals of the ruling parties and the mafia gangs connected with them – who constitute the new ruling class. A new form of exploitation has been superimposed on the old which directly uses the state agencies to consolidate its power (Sinha, 1996). So in such a case of large scale ‘governance failure’ – to use the appropriate word – informal channel becomes much more important for public at large. However, the  cost of such failure is borne disproportionately by lower and poorer classes, who are not in a position to access and utilize those informal channels. It is a well documented fact that dysfunctional vital public services, like healthcare, have a cascading and multiplier effect on public welfare, because for poor, even one forced instance of accessing private health services is a long term  ‘economic shock’ with devastating effect on the livelihood, education, health- physical and psychological, social standing and economic prospects of the whole family, and often extending beyond family, to the community of the poor.

Further, over the long reign of Lalu Yadav, there was certainly a perceptible decline in the law and order situation and general administration even for normal citizen in urban areas and peasant/farmers in rural areas. This has quite a substantial impact on the general mood and perception of the public. One of the examples of the decline of public administration is certainly the fodder scam where officers of a small department succeeded in stealing nearly Rs. 100 billion  through gross violation of basic financial rules, of course with active connivance of political class including some at the highest level (Joseph, 1997). Despite these declines, increasing privatization of the state power and collapse of governance machinery (EPW, 2003), Lalu’s formidable caste based combine of MY (Muslim-Yadav, and to some extent scheduled castes) brought electoral victories for him. On the other hand, one of the institutional developments, not unique to Bihar, which has been instrumental in decisive emergence of the backward castes is Panchayati Raj. Their presence in the power structure as mukhias and Zila Parishad chairman indicate the new social and political equation emerging at the local level (Gupta, 2001). Now, with 50% reservation for women in Bihar, Panchayati Raj institution has given unprecedented exposure to women agency and has potential to empower and transform the women fundamentally by not only improving their well being but also the agency itself. State government has very recently announced 35% reservation for women in government jobs, another decision with far reaching long-term consequences. However, I must again add that the situation in terms of poor law and order is a thing of past, and perhaps one of the most important achievement of Nitish government during 2005-10 was a rapid improvement in law and order situation in the state.



Elections 2010 and 2015: Social Choice for Development?

The spectacular win of Nitish Kumar led NDA coalition in the assembly elections of Bihar of 2010, where the combine won 206 out of 243 seats has been called a watershed in Bihar political history. Nitish rule during 2005-10 was marked by improvement in all fronts, especially in law and order, roads, school education, healthcare etc, though there were some concerns too on the nature of reported 11% per annum growth story of Bihar of those five years (Nagaraj, 2010). There have been some highly visible and successful schemes like bicycle for school going girls, direct money transfer for school dress to school going kids, vocational education schemes and promotion of self-help groups for women (Tiwari, 2010) etc. which were considered quite effective and were hugely popular. Nitish also reserved 50% of seats in Panchayati Raj institutions for women making Bihar the first state in India to do so, which was followed by other states and ultimately by the Central government. As a result, women empowerment seems to have played a major role in his victory as women came in large number to vote, their proportion being larger than that of men for the first time in history of Bihar (and perhaps in India too).

Clearly, Nitish emphasis since the beginning was on development politics, he never talked of caste based politics, politics of identity but emphasized on ‘vikas’ – development and asked people to vote on the basis of his performance in last five years. For the first time perhaps in post independent India, he talked of Bihari regional/sub-national identity, of bringing respect to the ‘Bihari’ identity, of taking Bihar to the next level of development, and did not talk of any factional caste identity. All this seems to have found ample support among masses, and has contributed to his huge victory.

Nevertheless, caste played an important role in the background. After all, the political coalition between Nitish party (JDU) and BJP is a compromise between forward caste and upper backward castes. He expanded this appeal by bringing lower backwards castes to his coalition and also brought significant proportion of Muslims, with his secular credentials. Large proportion of scheduled castes have also voted for him thought there obviously was division of these votes due to presence of Ram Vilas Paswan with Lalu Prasad.

However, some deep rooted schism in this coalition between upper and backward castes becomes evident when we look at the strike rate of JDU and BJP (seats won as % of seats fought). It was 82% for JDU and 89% for BJP. In the last elections of 2005, JD-U strike rate was 65%, 10% higher than BJP. As this time the elections were basically fought as Nitish vs. others, lower strike rate for Nitish’s party appears to be strange. But it may have happened due to the fact that not all upper caste votes (of BJP) were transferred to JDU, whereas all votes for Nitish Kumar (JDU) have been transferred to BJP giving a better strike rate to BJP.  It perhaps showed the still present animosity in certain sections of upper castes towards the rise of upper and lower backward castes on the political and social scene.

During 2013-15, there has been another kind of political upheavals in Bihar. Once foes, Nitish and Lalu (and Congress) came together to fight 2015 assembly elections after Nitish’s breakup with BJP in 2013. The combined strength of Nitish- Lalu won a comprehensive and decisive win with 178 seats out of 243, despite tremendous efforts by BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Of course, the caste athematic was strongly in Lalu-Nitish favour, with Yadav, Muslims, most of backward castes and scheduled caste supporting them. However, during electioneering, Nitish only talked of governance and development of Bihar. On the other hand Lalu, as usual, has no qualms talking about social justice and social engineering. Women, again came out in large number and voted for Nitish Kumar. Interestingly, the strike rate of Lalu has been much better than Nitish – 80% to that of 71%, and the reasons may again be the differential of transfer of votes of RJD and JDU to each other. There has been apprehension about the presence of RJD in the future government and during 2015 assembly elections one of the important electoral plank of BJP was that Lalu will bring back the dark days of Bihar (the so called Jungle Raj of 1990s). However, the BJP gambit appears to have backfired (as the results have shown), and though it is early to comprehensively conclude, the initial months of new Nitish-Lalu government does not appear to be moving towards the so called Jungle Raj. Interestingly, now every incident of lapse on law and order in Bihar is being much more vigorously portrayed as relapse to the old Jungle Raj – and media is an active participant in this perception game! (I am not amused as I do not expect anything better from most of the popular media).

On this, I would like to make a contrast here – though sadly, poignantly and shockingly – looking at what has happened in Haryana in last few days in the name of Jat agitation -leading to complete breakdown of law and order – and  especially the shocking and horrible incident of mass rape of women  in Murthal (hardly 50 km away from national capital)- Jungle Raj is perhaps quickly descending to Haryana. Further, the fact that the incident was not yet fully reported/known, as no FIR was lodged (reportedly, police and powerful advised the victims not to report this horrible crime as it would lead to further trouble for them) is even more depressing and worrying.


Governance and Development

Compared to the first tenure of Nitish, the second (2010-15, except for around a year when Jitan Ram Manjhi was Chief Minister) has not much to show in terms of social and economic development. There are no flagship schemes or achievements to showcase. It appears that Nitish has not been able to maintain the juggernaut with which he started in 2005. However, it may also be claimed that starting at a very low base, the first tenure was easier in terms of achieving perceptible results, and concomitantly, building up on first term’s successes would be not that easier. Nevertheless, there are still so many low-hanging ‘development’ fruits to be plucked, Bihar is still so underdeveloped, there are so many things to be done whichever sector you pick,  that there is no scope for complacency even for the duration of a generation at least. In most of the important development sectors, like school education, healthcare, childcare and nutrition, agriculture, rural development etc, where the government must be an active and leading agent, the government has not been able to make any significant contribution, whatever has been achieved is little and nothing of the sort which inspire hope for the future, nothing which can be said to be done with a long term vision and developmental goal in mind, nothing to improve and reform the service delivery mechanism.

I will cite an example from healthcare (my bias – I spent my years in Bihar working in this area!) – after the initial spurt in healthcare deliver services during the first tenure (2005-10) of Nitish, when most of the Health sub-center existing only on paper, were actually made operational and patients started visiting them; the second tenure (2010-15) did not see further improvement in them – they are still poorly staffed, without medicines, equipment and other facilities. And the situation remains the same for other, larger establishments – in many cases worse (remember PMCH example above?). No doubt, the government talked about second generation of healthcare reforms, but they did not come by (being part of the government health sector during this phase, I do accept part of the responsibility for the failure). The most important reason for such failures is governance deficit, institutional decay and administrative incapability, which requires urgent and sustained reforms not only in system, structure and process of service delivery but, more importantly, in attitude and approach of the political and bureaucratic leadership ( I would be saying more on this later, in another series of essay).



Society, Development and Democratic Performance in Bihar

Looking at the way social mobilization, with caste as a dominant factor, has unfolded in Bihar in last six decades, it would be a not be easy to conclude that it has undermined democracy. Democracy should be a form of governance whereby the social choices made by citizens can be aggregated successfully and without losing sight of some basic human values like freedom, liberty, and equality of opportunity  while also being mindful that weaker, marginalized and  minorities are not lost sight of. Democracy should not become a tool of majority tyranny over minority groups. Further, a successful democracy is one which is able to reconcile and satisfy competing claims over political and social power and over resources and which is capable of resolving disputes arising among different identity groups peacefully, primarily through discussion.

If we try to scrutinize the Bihar experience under these standards, it is found to be wanting on some aspects like the societal claims for power and resources have not always been resolved through peaceful means, example being Naxalism and Caste armies; some of the basic freedoms like basic education, primary healthcare, freedom from hunger and poverty, opportunity for livelihood, peaceful social climate etc have not been provided for in sufficient quantity. On  the other hand, in the sense of empowering (even notionally) the historically exploited groups of backward and scheduled castes (and even Muslims) socially, the Bihar experience appear to be quite successful. It may give the impression that social empowerment has been achieved at the cost of economic empowerment, but perhaps we need to appreciate the unique social structure of Bihar. The question of sequencing of social and economic development, or questioning the hypothesis of any such sequence itself can not be answered on the basis of empirical or historical evidences and examples. Perhaps its more in the nature of contextual, and depends on so many unique social, cultural, regional, historical, political and economic factors.

Further, it has been argued that political freedom and economic needs should not be seen as representing a dichotomy. Actually there are extensive interconnections between political freedom and the understanding and fulfillment of economic needs (Sen, 1999).  Democratic freedom not only helps in providing incentives and information in the solution of actual economic needs, it also facilitates conceptualization of ‘needs’ through debate and discussion (Sen, 1999). In this sense, Bihar’s highly contested and competitive democracy may be termed as providing democratic freedom – though may not often be of very high quality in terms of public debate and discussion – but somehow deciding the macro course of history. Democracy has the capacity to politicize and thus make many issues effective. It has been able to do so in Bihar. But democracy may also be limited in the sense that some of the important issues may not get politicized due to various reasons. In that sense, what Forster has said long back in 1962 still appears to be true for Bihar: “democracy in Bihar certainly deserves two cheers, if not three!”

Policies and politics of social justice have reached a dead end in contemporary India. This does not, however, mean a futile or wasted journey (Yadav, 2009). It aptly describes the Bihar situation. Caste based politics and policies may have been weak on pushing a clearly articulated developmental agenda – especially in the 1980s and 1990s, but has been quite effective in bringing notions of empowerment, freedom and social justice to the forefront. Perhaps, the politics of past ten years points to a promising future – where a genuine effort is being made for an inclusive development. And due to these very social and political reasons that I discussed in this series, the development challenges facing Bihar are much more complex, persistent and difficult. Yet, I am a firm believer that these will be tackled and surmounted, and that Bihar has a promising future!



  • EPW (Economic and Political Weekly),   Editorial: Bihar – All Round Chaos; January 11, 2003
  • Forster E.M. (1962). Two Cheers for Democracy, Harcourt Brace and Company, New York
  • Gupta Shaibal (2001). New Panchayats and Subaltern Resurgence; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; July 21, 2001
  • Joseph K P (1997). Plunder of Public Exchequer as Government Audit Sleeps; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; January 18, 1997
  • Nagaraj R & Rahman Andaleed (2010). Booming Bihar – Fact or Fiction?; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; February 20, 2010 Vol. XLV, No. 8
  • Pritchett Lant (2009). Is India A Flailing State-Detours on the four Lane Highway to Modernization; Harvard Kennedy School Working Paper, RWP-09-013, Cambridge
  • Sen Amartya (1999). Development As Freedom; Oxford University Press, New York, pg 148
  • Sinha Arvind (1996). Social Mobilization in Bihar – Bureaucratic Feudalism and Distributive Justice; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; December 21, 1996
  • Tiwari Meera (2010). Didi of Rural Bihar – Real Agent of Change?; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; August 14, 2010, Vol XLV, No. 33
  • Yadav Yogendra (2009). Rethinking Social Justice; Seminar, New Delhi, No. 601, September 2009, pg. 81


Social Choice and Democracy in Bihar (4): Identity, Voice and Economic Development


In this penultimate part of my series on democracy and social choice in Bihar, I would be discussing how the issues of identity, voice and justice on the one hand and material development on the other has shaped and influenced the preferences and decisions of people. To some extent, it also brings into sharp focus and delineates the so called incompatibility of development and democracy in Bihar.

Social Choice, Caste-Identity and Political Power

It would be perfectly valid to infer that democratic choices made by people of different class/caste have been instrumental in shaping the destiny of post-independence Bihar. And the choices made through democratic process of holding regular elections and casting of votes has been intricately related with the identity of the voters. It has been no exaggeration to say that the most important identity for Bihari voters has often been their caste. However, I would like to emphasize that this is neither unique to Bihar not a new development of past couple of decades. Caste has always played an important role in political mobilization, especially in a competitive politics like India. On the national scene, with the gradual decline in the political fortune of Congress party, especially after the demise of its towering and visionary leaders like Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar etc, the political discourse has increasingly become more and more factionalism driven, regional in character, individual based, and an ongoing struggle for power among different caste and class groups.

Since caste in India displays such a high degree of heterogeneity, political mobilization has taken different forms in different parts of India, and on first examination, these movements and mobilizations may not appear to be following the caste axes. However, on deeper examination, the underlying caste-equations and affiliations can always be found. Further, the regional heterogeneity and diversity of caste and its social structure, classification and distribution is not a common knowledge among Indian middle class, to the extent that such regional/provincial differences in culture, language, food habits, climates, physical features and economic development etc. is well known and appreciated. Most of us won’t even know the names of different castes in various regions of India, what to talk of further details. For example, I cannot claim that I have any meaningful and deeper understanding of caste identities, groups, and functional characteristics of different castes in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Punjab. Whatever I know is sketchy and to know more, I need to go beyond the regular and popular channel of information. Similar would be the case for someone from Andhra Pradesh if asked about the caste and social structure of Bihar.

Despite this, I may say that, for example, in the politics of Maharashtra, Maratha vs. Non-Maratha is essentially a caste group based political mobilization where Maratha are a group of landed backward castes (really? – perhaps I need more information on this). This mobilization has taken place in opposition to upper castes especially Brahmins. In Tamilnadu and other southern states of India with long history of backward castes movement (starting early in the twentieth century) the political mobilization took place mainly as anti-Brahmin movement and various backward castes (landed as well as others) did combine together in this process. However, in both these cases, the political power struggle started slightly earlier than in Bihar and by the early 1960s, transfer of political and social power in the hands of backward castes was well on its way in those states. Perhaps Bihar is 30 to 40 years behind them in social progress!

Therefore, in the case of Bihar too, the struggle for social power through political mobilization has started before independence and has gone through a protracted tussle between two main caste groups before the final triumph of backward castes. Wait a minute, I may be too early to pronounce the triumph of backwards in this struggle for social power. On the other hand, the triumph in capturing political power may look more convincing and long lasting, especially in light of recent win of Nitish-Lalu combine in 2015 assembly elections and the fact that now, for past 25 years continuously, Bihar’s political leadership, if not political landscape, has been controlled by backward castes. With the formation of government by Nitish Kumar in 2005 with BJP support, it appears that social engineering have entered a new phase with mobilization of most-backward castes for political power showing their rising aspirations in combination with forward castes though the events of past two years and 2015 election results makes a new twist in this intensely fought contest for political and social power and identity .

In any case, the most striking point to note in all the above examples is perhaps the power of democracy and process of social choice through regular election which made it possible to politicize the exploitative social structure and social relations, and which has given such a strong handle to the populace to express their preferences and choices.


Development and Democracy: Are They Incompatible?

It has often been said that Lalu’s tenure was marked by the strange emergence of identity politics on Bihar landscape. He indeed brought the issues like social justice, voice of the backwards and downtrodden, rights of poor to stand with respect and dignity to the forefront. It is often said that his politics and policies were repeatedly supported by people of backward castes and downtrodden despite any significant improvement in their material well-being because these sections of society did not care for development – their decision essentially being irrational. What they perceive important for them was the issues of freedom and identity – the notions which do not bring tangible benefits. And there were claims that, thus Bihar is a very appropriate example demonstrating that democracy is not always desirable in a land which is backward, poor and underdeveloped. I have even heard the arguments that Bihar needs a dictator who should work for economic development of the state (to be sure, I have heard such arguments for India too!) Thus, we have the classic argument about incompatibility of democracy and development. Here, I may hasten to add what Prof. Amartya Sen has recently said (in Calcutta during a function to commemorate Subhash Chandr Bose’s birth anniversary in January 2016) – As secularism is often being used as a bad word, democracy and liberty could be next?

Coming back to the central issue, if we accept the inference in case of Bihar that people here did not (and do not) care for the economic development, it would be good to be reminded that even before Lalu, Bihar did not see much development during first forty years of independence. By late 1980s, Bihar was already one of the most underdeveloped states in India. Does it mean that people of Bihar never cared for development? Perhaps, economic development was not an issue or not the most important issue for most of the people, because, in any case, it never happened in Bihar.

But this brings us to other important question as to why development did not happen in Bihar after independence, and why it did not matter to people of Bihar when they saw other states continuously moving ahead of them, and Bihar lagging behind. There are no easy answers. The issue of lack of sub-national identities in cow-belt may have been a factor. Is it due to some cultural-social mind-set and issues? I need not go into them here, it’s a topic to be analysed in a future post.

The issue of balanced regional development in a federal country like India has already lost the centrality, and now in this age of globalization and populist capitalist democracy, those states which are already developed, those with a historical advantage, are surging further ahead. So we have a situation where central government fails to select even a single city for its smart city project from three large states housing more than one-third of India’s people (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal), based on some competitive criteria. I am not surprised- in this competitive game, underdeveloped, backwards and laggards are doomed – they are bound to lose!

In a sense, as we have already analyzed, it may be safe to conclude that the politics in Bihar has been, in the most palpable form, and for most of the time, was a social, economic and agrarian power struggle between forward castes and backward castes groups. In the early years of Congress hegemony, the power struggle was for domination by different forward caste namely Bhumihars, Brahmins and Rajputs. With the rise of Yadavs, they have often been seen as replacing the forward caste oppressor of Dalits and lower backward castes in many parts of Bihar (Gupta, 1992).

Do people of Bihar really not care for development? Here I would like to bring into focus the meaning and understanding of “development”. Development does not always mean pure economic development. It is too narrow a definition. And over the past half century, the issue of development has seen a huge amount of intellectual debate and crystallization of the idea through research, discussions and literature in academic and practitioner spheres. It has been forcefully argued that development requires action on many other fronts in addition to pure economic development, like working towards ensuring participation and equality of opportunity, social change and development of institutions, public voice and democratic rights, freedom and liberty, social opportunity etc (Dreze, 2002).  The presence of political freedom and intense competition for social power through political landscape can be seen as expression of and support for the claims of political attention – what has been called instrumental role of the political and liberal rights (Sen, 1999). Therefore, it appears that in this process of factional and caste based politics in Bihar, pure economic development was not always a top priority. It is largely evident because all throughout independence, Bihar continued to lag behind other states in terms of development indicators like per capita income, life expectancy, infant mortality, school education, higher and adult education, and level of industrialization and agricultural development.

On most of the occasions, Bihar looked more concerned with social justice and political power game among backward and forward castes, which indeed was based on deep rooted historical agrarian, social structure and power relations. We must realize that in Bihar, even today, agriculture development and social upliftment are intricately linked through land ownership pattern and land reforms still promises handsome results. It has been pointed that in the scenario of unequal distribution of land and resources, the embrace of new technology by small cultivators far from leading to greater income diffusion, deepens their dependence on those with economic, social and political power (Wilson, 2002). The last ten years of Nitish rule and his recent victory also indicate that perhaps the social identity issues have been played for too long, and more tangible developmental issues are now becoming important to people of Bihar.


Religion or Caste: The Muslims in Bihar

Historically Muslims have voted for Congress, almost everywhere in India. The pattern disturbed with the weakening of Congress and emergence of BJP on the national scene during late 1980s. This also coincided with emergence of regional political leaders like Lalu Yadav in Bihar, Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP etc. The emphasis of BJP on Hindu majority and its Hindutva politics for gaining political power further alarmed Muslim minorities. In Bihar, Muslims saw Lalu as the leader with the courage to take on the challenge of BJP head on – which was on display by his arrest of L K Advani during his Rath Yatra in 1990. In any case, Lalu Yadav remained staunchly secular, true to India’s tradition of religious harmony and tolerance, which has been amply demonstrated during his 15 years rule when Bihar remained totally free from religious riots and violence. It may be noted that this period is marked by such provocative incidents like Babri Masjid demolition, Mumbai Riots and bomb blasts and Gujarat riots. Thus, Muslims during this period gravitated en-mass towards Lalu Yadav.

It can be argued that with the emergence of backward castes on the political scene and caste mobilization becoming the most important force, religious divisions ceased to be important issue in Bihar. To some extent this may be true, especially if we note that Muslims community was always considered a ‘caste’, a monolithic group and solid chunk of vote bank which tend to vote in tandem. But this brings us to the question that if Muslims acted as vote back even before Lalu and caste was the mobilizing force since long, then why religious issues were not relegated to the background during pre-Lalu era? We have many examples of religious riots during pre-Lalu era, as late as in 1989 in Bhagalpur. On many occasion, there have been riots even between Yadavs and Muslims. In that sense, Lalu’s was a deliberate attempt to contain religious violence, even if with the motive of getting the Muslim votes, and he needs to be credited for that.  However, the upper castes, who tend to identify relatively more with the religious-identity politics of BJP, are therefore, more prone to succumb to religiously divisive rhetoric. In that sense, backward castes have tended to be more sympathetic and accommodating with Muslims. Further, as vast majority of Muslims in Bihar (as well as in other parts of India) are socially and economically backward, they identify themselves more with Hindu backward castes of their society rather than the divisive Muslim identity often propagated by some rich and sectarian Muslims.

Nitish Kumar has clearly understood this. Despite being in political alliance with BJP, he was painstaking in his efforts to send out a clear message about his secular credential not only rhetorically but also by actions and deeds. His reign too, has been free of any religious riots, an achievement almost parallel to that of Lalu’s, and he introduced some developmental scheme specially targeted to the poor Muslims. Further, he insisted on keeping controversial BJP leaders out of Bihar and ensured that BJP in Bihar does not talk in religious language. All this has helped him gain support of the Muslim, though not all Muslims (according to reports, in 2010 elections, Muslim votes were spread between JD-U, RJD and to some extent Congress). The story of 2015 assembly elections, with Nitish-Lalu together has no secret as to the preference of Muslims in Bihar!

Accordingly, it would be safe to conclude that to some extent, with the emergence of backward castes on the political scene in Bihar, who have been socially and economically more similar to vast majority of Muslims, religious division has ceased to be a dividing force. In any case, Lalu’s and Nitish’s significant contribution in this phenomenon cannot be doubted.



  • Dreze Jean & Sen Amartya (2002). India – Development and Participation; Oxford University Press, New York
  • Gupta Tilak (1992).Yadav Ascendancy in Bihar Politics; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; June 27, 1992
  • Sen Amartya (1999). Development As Freedom; Oxford University Press, New York, pg 148
  • Wilson Kalpana (2002). Small Cultivators in Bihar and New Technology – Choice or Compulsion?; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; March 30, 2002


Economics of Social Choice and Bihar (3): A Peek into Land, Social Structure and Power Relations


Continuing my previous discussion of complex interaction among social choice, development and democracy in Bihar, I would be outlining how predominance of agriculture and resulting land relations among people has played a crucial role in shaping social and economic life in Bihar. This indeed is a vast area, and I would keep myself brief, just outlining the post-independence situation, process and interactions. As with the previous post, what follows is largely based on my paper written for Prof. Amartya Sen course.

Bihar is a vast plain of fertile agricultural land watered by perennial rivers. Accordingly, the society has been structured on land relations and land ownership assumed a very important role. It has been observed that with gradual development of economic activities, urbanization and commercialization, the role and importance of agriculture in overall economic relations gradually reduces, and consequently agricultural and land based relations decline stop playing significant role in shaping social and cultural environment. However, the case of Bihar seems to be different, or at least, this process of changing social relations seems to be very slow.

Bihar is still primarily an agricultural state, and ironically  with most outdated agricultural practices, techniques and management. In Bihar, agricultural activities are carried out using centuries old techniques, farmers still use oxen and wooden-iron plough and where finding a combined harvester is like sighting a dinosaur! (I myself have rarely seen a combined harvester in Bihar, and I can reasonably claim to have been out to villages and field quite often in last 3-4 years. In fact, no one in my village (in East Champaran district) has used a combined harvester). Urbanization too is lowest in Bihar, with as many as 85% of people still living in villages.

As the economic development has not taken place on expected lines, agriculture remains important and land relations continue to remain the most important determinant, not only in social but also in economic relations. Thinking more about this, I find it to be more of a conundrum: A puzzle and a challenge for our econometrician friends who may like to probe further the causal paradox: Agriculture remains preeminent because economic development has not taken place in other sectors or agricultural preeminence and resulting social structure has hindered development of other sectors of economy in Bihar!

Agrarian Class Structure in Bihar

In Bihar, agrarian class structure is quite closely linked to the caste hierarchy. Historically, during the British time, Bihar was under the permanent settlement system. Though this has been long abolished, in reality, the agrarian structure in Bihar is still to a large extent quite feudal and caste based. Most of the land is owned by four forward castes (though Kayastha are certainly the minority partners now). However, gross generalization may not be appropriate, as many upper castes are also tenants and small peasants. On the other hand, some upper backward castes especially Yadavs and Kurmis do hold large tracts of land in some parts of Bihar, especially in north central, kosi, and south central Bihar.  Further, not all backward castes are middle-sized peasants or small landholders. Many of them are sharecroppers, tenants as well as agricultural labourers. Despite all these qualifications, there is a large positive correlation between caste hierarchy, agrarian structure and landholding pattern in Bihar.

This image should not be considered a static one. It is highly dynamic – increasingly so in recent decades. The old feudal bondages are vanishing though new forms of land-agriculture based economic and social relations as well as oppression have also emerged. Many powerful sections of backward castes have joined the rank of landlords. In central Bihar two distinct types of landlords can be identified – feudal and capitalist- comprising of traditional forward caste landlords still engaged in cultivation through tenants, and upper backward castes generally practicing division of land and hiring a part to sharecropper for fixed or flexible rent (produce or cash – often called Bataidari/Hunda) respectively. The practice of sharecropping on its own has become quite important and is increasingly being practiced even by feudal landlords since many of them have started moving to cities in search of better education and professional opportunity. The trend is increasingly being noticed with new economic and technological sectors promising better and bright future for young educated middle class. Since these landlords have strong ties with their land and some member of the (extended) family does stay back in villages, they do not dispose off the land, instead it is given to sharecropper most of whom are from lower backward and scheduled castes. The practice is largely oral, leading to higher exploitation and arbitrariness.

At the bottom of the agrarian hierarchy are the agricultural labourers who come mostly from scheduled castes and lower backward castes. They suffer the most excessive from of caste and class prejudices and therefore have been the backbone of radical peasant movements in Bihar.

A point of further research is to how and to what extent agriculture in general and landlordism  in particular economically rewarding in Bihar (especially in light of its still subsistence nature) and why/to what extent it has contributed towards  shifting of new generation of landlords castes to other modern middle class occupations and activities? A related issue is the value of land, as land ownership is tantamount to ownership of wealth, and if not in agriculture, land is perhaps more profitably being utilized for housing, building, industry and other commercial purposes. And the question of how the skewed land ownership pattern has helped or hindered the shifting out of land/agriculture based livelihood by different castes? 

Peasant Struggle, Land Reforms and Social Violence

In Bihar, the starting of organized peasant movement can be traced back to early twentieth century when caste association proliferated in the state. It was the beginning of a protracted struggle for gaining political power by the backward castes. However, in the beginning its nature was a movement for social upliftment which soon turned into challenge to the social power of the forward caste landlords and rich peasants. Slowly, it started to take the form of an organized agrarian movement. An important early event was formation of Triveni Sangh – a federation of Yadavs, Kurmis, and Koiris in 1933 which emerged as a symbol of rising political ambition of backward peasant castes. After independence, Zamindari was abolished despite strong protest from forward caste landlords. However, the end result was not as encouraging across India, and especially in Bihar, it fared very poorly. It resulted in no significant transfer of land ownership and concomitantly, in power relations, though to some extent upper backward castes benefited from abolition of landlordism.

Various land reforms measures in Bihar during early 1950s were of limited success only. Though they were able to alter the permanently settled land relations, they were not effective in resolving the contradiction resulting from these reforms. The land reforms ostensibly designed to benefit the disadvantaged were subverted by vested interest who dominated the state politics and administration (Chakravarty, 2001). The effects of these reforms, which were coming from the top, failed to address the issue of land, wage and social status of landless castes. As land reform measures were implemented half-heartedly mainly due to dominance of forward caste in the Congress and also due to poor laws, ownership remained concentrated. The famous Bhoodan Andolan of Binoba Bhave as well as efforts of Jaya Prakash Narayan did not bear any significant fruits either. Further, in this iniquitous state of affairs, introduction of Green Revolution in late 1960s and early 1970s, though to a limited extent, further aggravated the problem. Even now, the lack of commitment to land reforms and towards ending caste exploitation from political circles where the configuration has been changed making upper backward castes more powerful but where dalits continue to suffer, has been cited as one of the major challenges for state government in Bihar (Kumar 2009a).

In this respect, the past 25 years of rule by Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar is quite revealing. The desirability of land reforms has been used sometimes by political leaders as mere rhetoric, and nothing significant has been done towards this ideals. Government now talks of agricultural development, but not of land relations and land ownership. Perhaps Nitish and Lalu know that land reform is something which cannot be achieved!

Alas, in this era of globalization, liberalization and free markets, even talking about land reforms itself is antiquated and anachronistic! And I should stop lest I be declared a fossilized creature in no time! Nevertheless, let me mention about naxalism and caste armies of 1990s without which understanding today’s Bihar would be difficult.

Naxalism and Caste Armies

The failure of effective land reform is intimately related with rural unrest and rise of Maoist movement in Bihar. The guerrilla warfare and annihilation campaigns against landlords, moneylenders and police of Bihar by Maoist, acquired widespread support of poor sharecropper, suppressed landless labourer and scheduled castes in the interiors of rural Bihar (especially central and earlier south Bihar, which is now Jharkahand). The main targets of Naxal were village based landlords who mainly belonged to Bhumihar, Rajput, Yadav as well as Kurmi castes. The Naxal violence still is a force to reckon with and it has acquired new dimension with the pan-India spread of ultra left movement in past two decades.

As a result of growing menace of Naxal armedstruggle, the state government in 1970s allowed arming of landlords in Naxal affected areas. This process ultimately led to formation of caste based fighters (Sena), and they belong to all the major landowning castes – Bhumihars, Rajputs, Yadavs and Kurmis. With the emergence of caste Senas and near abnegation of responsibility by the state government towards its citizen, Bihar entered into a prolonged period of bloody clashes between Naxal and caste armies and massacre of people during troubled 1980s and 1990s. Even during 2000s, it has been noted that in semi-feudal society of Bihar with ruthless oppression, violent revolts and resistance, private armies are flourishing in the atmosphere of lawlessness and the cycle of violence and counter violence continues (Louis, 2000).

Bihar of Today

However, the menace of naxalism and caste sena seem to be a thing of past since 2005, and variously the credit has been given to Nitish Kumar. However, the naxalism movement is not dead, and is simmering below the limelight. The situation in rural Bihar has not improved, and the land relations are still exploitative to a large extent.  We need to be careful not to think that land and land based social relations are now not that important even in rural areas of Biahr. We would be grossly mistaken. However, what has perhaps happened, and is continuing with greater intensity now is emigration of landless lowest castes to towns and urban centers where they are employed in non-agricultural commercial activities. And this emigration is in various forms and directions, with people moving to different towns in Bihar and to Delhi and other metropolitan areas, and the better offs even moving to Middle East. What is more, this emigration out of villages/land is not confined to lowest caste alone. As I mentioned earlier, even the new generation of landlord casts are abandoning land, agriculture (and Bihar) for greener pastures in metro cities and abroad. Perhaps this is natural and desirable also, as this will only reduce the excessive burden on land!

I would like to end with another question:

Except Patna, I think most other towns of Bihar are suffering from what is called “urban decay”. I have not seen any significant change and development in these towns in past 25 years. They have remained the same, or even have gone worse in some cases. Sample this:- no town in Bihar uses traffic lights! Patna has now started with installing and using traffic lights. But no plans for any other city, they are still at the subsistence level – struggling even to maintain roads, drains, water supply, sewerage and trash disposal services! How to reconcile it with so much talked about “growth story of Bihar” of past 10 years? And when the urban areas and capital city are like this, what to talk of agriculture!

This all is taking me to the question of “governance challenge” facing Bihar and it is another topic altogether.  

So Bye for now! Have a Good Day!


  • Chakravarti Anand (2001). Caste and Agrarian Class – A View from Bihar; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; April 28, 2001
  • Kumar Avinash (2009a). Illegitimacy of the State in Bihar; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; October 31, 2009, Vol XLIV, No. 44
  • Louis Prakash (2000). Class War Spreads to New Areas; Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai; June 24, 2000