‘Weakness of Indian state’ in elimination of poverty

Synopsis: The pandemic has exposed the weakness of the Indian state in fulfilling the needs of the poor. This calls for a change in the current approach to eradicate the miseries faced by the poor.


  • Two books have tried to explain the shortcomings of the Indian state in meeting the aspirations of the poor. 
  • The books are Locking Down the Poor: The Pandemic and India’s Moral Centre by Harsh Mander and Despite the State: Why India Lets Its People Down and How They Cope by M. Rajshekhar.
  • They throw light on the problems faced by the poor during the pandemic including loss of jobs, shortage of food, etc. 
  • As per them, the failure is based on the systematic weakness of the Indian state which is devoid of the key pillars of a strong state.

What are the key pillars of a strong state:

  • It is built with strong support from people
  • It has robust administrative machinery for the delivery of services and maintenance of stability.
  • Furthermore, it has managerial abilities to shape and implement change.

Issues with Indian state:

  • First, it is very difficult to develop a shared identity among Indians due to the high degree of diversity. Shared identity is essential for obtaining the support of people as seen in the case of strong states like Japan and China. They used Japanese and Han Chinese identities for unification.
  • Second, apart from the diversity, the Indian state is also suffering from caste division. It is often used by leaders to divide the Indian masses.
  • Third, the Indian bureaucracy performs poorly in the domain of shaping changes. This is mainly due to the colonial mindset which focuses more on stability and compliance.
  • Fourth, governance is more focused on capitalist ideology. It induces the bureaucracy to function as corporate managers. This eventually neglects the spirit of socialism which is necessary to uplift the poor people. 
  • Fifth, the approach of looking at politics as not more than an extension of economics has led to privatisation of necessary services such as health and education.
  • Sixth, the approach of strengthening the top of the pyramid and expectation of improving the bottom through trickle-down effect has not delivered desired results.

Way Forward:

  • The focus should be on uniting the masses around a modern and inclusive identity as taught by our constitution-makers.
  • The bureaucrats must be given due training in order to simultaneously balance stability and change. As too much change can create chaos and no change can solidify the inefficiencies of the current setup.
  • Public servants should not function as corporate managers. Rather they must be willing to devote their lives for the welfare of the masses in order to strengthen the process of nation-building. 
  • The state must realize that it can’t function like a private corporation that can easily fire its employees. It must ensure everyone is given due opportunities to grow and prosper.
  • The state must now focus on parameters like economic justice, environmental sustainability, etc. rather than solely on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers.  

In a nutshell, India today desires political leaders who can unite the masses, administrators who can deliver good governance, and business leaders who are wealth creators as well as distributors.

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