Perverse governance: State incapacity by design in Bihar, India
20 August 2011
Poor governance is often attributed to historical and structural factors that are difficult to change: “it is there because it is there, or because of a legacy of pathologies like colonial rule and an unnatural degree of socio-linguistic diversity." IDS Working Paper 366 (May 2011) by Santhosh Mathew and Mick Moore explores the role of individual agency and the incentives and opportunities that powerful political insiders may face to weaken state capacity in their own interests. It focuses on governance practices during the tenure of Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, from 1990 to 2005.
Arguing that low capacity is "often a political choice" the authors use the Bihar case to illustrate the dialectic nature of state capacity, in which powerful insiders compete simultaneously to create institutions and to resist or undermine them. The paper notes that while we easily accept that most national histories include a narrative of internal resistance to state building, contemporary failures to maintain state capacity are not usually treated in an equivalent way.
The authors assert that such was the scale of poverty among the core electoral coalition that Chief Minister Laly Prasad Yadav had "limited prospects of maintaining its cohesion and allegiance through the normal processes of promising ‘development’ and using networks of political patronage to distribute material resources to supporters." Furthermore, “such a strategy would have involved a high level of dependence on the government apparatus, that was dominated by people from a number of historically-dominant upper castes. Yadav therefore "preferred to mobilise his supporters on the basis of continual confrontation with this historically oppressive elite." For example, he kept public sector jobs vacant rather than appoint qualified people – who were mainly from the upper castes. In this way the state government even sacrificed large potential fiscal transfers from the Government of India designed for anti-poverty programmes by failing to complete the relevant bureaucratic procedures.Search Terms casestudies asia analytical frameworks research policy