New paper: Being Middle Class in India

Devesh Kapur, Neelanjan Sircar, and I have a chapter in a forthcoming edited volume on the middle class in Brazil and India. Our chapter uses data from 2013 to study the Indian middle class. There is a huge definitional debate–in India and around the world–about what constitutes the middle class. It occurred to us that one powerful definition is what individuals themselves think about their class status. Using this concept of self-identification, we find that nearly one out of two Indians believes he or she is in the “middle class.” Furthermore, it turns out that self-identifying as “middle class” is linked to a very distinct outlook about the world. Here’s a snapshot of the variation across Indian states:


You can read the full chapter here.


New column: “Doing business in India: myths and realities”

Matthew Lillehaugen and I have a new column, appearing in Mint and the Ideas for India blog, on the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators. The 2018 edition of the annual rankings comes out this week and India is expected to improve its traditionally lackluster performance.

In advance of the anticipated data release, we look at what the measures do and do not tell us. We do this by comparing the indicators to firm-level data from enterprise surveys. This chart summarizes what we find when we compare the Doing Business data (which capture de jure realities) with enterprise survey data (which capture de facto experience).


You can read the full piece here.


The Emerging Congress Strategy for 2019

I have a new column in The Print on the emerging Congress Party strategy for India’s 2019 general election. I describe the largely negative strategy as “high risk, high reward,” for it seeks to drag Modi and the BJP down rather than offer a coherent alternative for the future. I write:

The Congress’ strategy—best described as high-risk, high-reward—rests not on its projection of a coherent vision for the country or the projection of a dynamic national leader but rather a high-decibel rejection of the status quo.

The full piece can be found here.

New column: Dominance, doubt & the BJP

I have a new column in the Indian Express that draws on a recent visit to Delhi. In the piece, I make the case that dominance and doubt are joined together in an uncomfortable embrace in Delhi’s corridors of power. On the one hand, the BJP is utterly dominant, methodically expanding its footprint across India. On the other hand, a nagging sense of anxiety driven by the country’s patchy economic performance refuses to go away.

Here’s the key paragraph:

But this electoral dominance does not tell the full story. Beneath this aura of supremacy is a nagging feeling of vulnerability, nudged along by the amassing clouds on the economic horizon. The economic scenario, exemplified by anemic first quarter GDP growth figures, betrays the promises of sound economic stewardship the BJP had continually boasted on the campaign trail. While the macro picture has stabilized, there are concerns with the micro.

You can read the full piece here.

New article: “India at 70”

In a new article for Foreign Affairs, Madhav Khosla and I look at India’s seven decades of experience as a functioning democracy. While India has mastered democracy during elections, it is the state of democracy between elections that is a more concerning. Here’s a snippet:

But the Indian democratic experiment is marred by a central flaw. Indian democracy has worked well during elections. But—as the historian Ramachandra Guha has noted—democracy between elections is much less robust. It is commonplace to observe that democracy is not just about voting, and it is in this respect that modern India is coming up short. The Indian democratic project is held back, in short, by ineffectual governance and a patchy record on civil liberties.

You can read the full piece here.

New piece: India’s Opposition Heads for the Hills

I have a new piece, published online by Foreign Affairs, that looks at the state of Indian politics in the aftermath of the dramatic political events in Bihar. Here’s a snippet:

The upheaval is only the latest signal that the BJP is the new center of political gravity in a country long controlled by the storied Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of the Congress Party. The BJP not only occupies prime position for the country’s next general election—scheduled for 2019—but it is also moving at breakneck speed to cement its hold over powerful state governments. Although the BJP government’s gathering strength signals policy stability and political consolidation, it simultaneously raises concerns about the health of India’s democratic checks and balances.

You can read the entire article here.

Shashi Tharoor reviews “Rethinking Public Institutions in India”

Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, former cabinet minister, and well-known author, has written a very thoughtful review of our new volume, Rethinking Public Institutions in India. Tharoor, who has written about the infirmities of the Indian state before, covers a lot of ground in his essay for OPEN Magazine. He ends with these kind words:

This impressive, dense volume offers an enormous amount of material on where our public institutions stand and how they could do better. It will reward the serious student of public administration as well as the concerned lay reader. One can only hope that it will not be too long before things improve to the point where a new edition is required.

You can read the entire review here.