Carnegie Podcast on “Rethinking Public Institutions”

Devesh Kapur, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, and I had the chance to sit down with Tom Carver to record an episode of the Carnegie Endowment podcast. The conversation was wide-ranging, touching on many of the themes of our recent edited volume, Rethinking Public Institutions in India.

You can listen to the podcast here.

“Public Institutions” excerpt in Mint

Today’s edition of Mint features a brief excerpt from the introductory chapter to our new volume, Rethinking Public Institutions in India. The chapter, co-authored by Devesh Kapur, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, and myself, outlines the nature (and immense importance) of the state capacity challenge India faces.

Here’s a taste:

Unfortunately, all this makes it painfully evident that India is struggling to perform even the most basic functions of a sovereign state. While much of the attention on the manifold shortcomings of the Indian state has focused on high levels of corruption and venality in public life, an equally compelling limitation is the lack of competence, both at the policy design and formulation level, and the even larger challenge in effectively implementing these policies.

You can read the full piece here.

“Rethinking Public Institutions in India” out now


Our new edited volume on the Indian state is now available for purchase. Our hope is that it will be a “one-stop shop” for those looking to understanding the state of governance in India.

The book builds on the essential 2005 volume on the same theme edited by Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta. We thought, after ten years, it was worth taking stock once more not to mention studying institutions that did not figure in the earlier book (such as the Election Commission of India)

You can find out more about the book here (including links to our introductory chapter + my co-authored chapter — with E. Sridharan — on the Election Commission).

Ashutosh Bhardwaj reviews “When Crime Pays” for the Financial Express

Financial Express epaper copy

Ashutosh Bhardwaj has a nice review of When Crime Pays in today’s Financial Express. He begins with this anecdote about Sibgatullah Ansari, brother of noted don-politician Mukhtar Ansari, currently an MLA in Uttar Pradesh:

On a night of May 2014, days before the Lok Sabha polls, a bewildered Dalit man entered a palatial haveli in Mohammadabad town of Ballia district in eastern UP. His eight-year-old daughter had been raped, but the police were refusing to file a complaint. Seated on a sofa, Sibgatullah Ansari dialled a number, talked to the cops, seeking immediate action, and dished out a `500 note to the man. “Ja, kuch kha lena. Fikra na kar (Go and eat something. Don’t worry).” This writer was witness to the incident when the tall man dispensed justice, underlining the irony of Indian electoral politics.

The entire review is worth reading as Bhardwaj touches upon some of the (oft-forgotten) historical roots of the criminal-politician nexus. You can read the full review here.

FirstPost review of When Crime Pays

Manik Sharma has written a review of the book for FirstPost. I also had the chance to speak with Manik about some of the book’s main themes.

Here’s his final para:

Though there are clear signs as to where the Indian system ails, there are no clear signs of it being treated. Criminality has simply become too entrenched. And therefore it takes a book like When Crime Pays, and a hovering gaze to make sense, and question with renewed intensity, the state of our country’s politics. When Crime Pays is perhaps even more important for those who wish to ignore it, than those who will readily devour its uneasy findings.

Read the whole thing here.

A friendly request to readers


It was really gratifying to see this list this morning courtesy of my publisher, HarperCollins India. If you’ve had a chance to read the book, THANK YOU.

And now for a request: please leave a review of the book on Amazon. Whether you loved it, hated it, or were indifferent, it would be great to hear from you.

Here’s the link to the Amazon (US) page and the link to the Amazon (India) page.



Podcast: I Survived “Cyrus Says”


When I was in Bombay in February, I recorded a podcast with funny-man Cyrus Broacha for his “Cyrus Says” podcast. The recording was a hoot although, as you can tell by listening, I struggled to keep up from the moment we started recording.

Cyrus and I talked about my childhood, my book, the city of Delhi, Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, and everything in between.

The podcast is out now and you can listen to it here.


Crime, intimidation, and politics

That’s the title of a recent review of When Crime Pays by Atul K. Thakur in the Kathmandu Post. Thakur calls it “a book that is extraordinary and purposeful—which despite being centred on Indian politics is universal in its application.”

But the author also raises a few quibbles with the book that are valid and useful. The first is that the book does not delve into “the misuse of media or of public relations during elections.” Thakur writes:

Never in the history of parliamentary democracy has conventional and new media been misappropriated as it is now. In a world ruled by opportunists, truth continues to be distorted beyond recognition, influencing voters with an avalanche of non-issues instead.

Thakur’s second critique is about the very nature of criminality:

[T]he definition of “crime” in itself needs to be revisited, as modern-day crime is so well-organised and thoroughly proofed that merely classifying it as “money and muscle” only paints half the picture

Thakur’s review is well worth reading. You can find it here.

“When Crime Pays” reviewed in The Wire

Over at The Wire, Raghunath Nageswaran has a review of “When Crime Pays.” He begins with an excellent quote from the sociologist Max Weber:

“There are two ways of making politics one’s vocation: either one lives ‘for’ politics or one lives ‘off’ politics,” said German sociologist Max Weber in his essay ‘Politics as a Vocation‘. Surely, many politicians have come to live off politics but what are the ‘incentives’ that encourage individuals soaked in criminality to take the plunge into it in the first place? At a time when we are witnessing increasing criminalisation of politics in our democracy, this question needs to be confronted head on and that’s precisely what Milan Vaishnav sets out to do in his book When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics.

You can read the entire review here.