Despite the State: Introduction and reccomendations

From the back cover: ‘The story of democratic failure is usually read at the level of the nation, while the primary bulwarks of democratic functioning–the states–get overlooked. This is a tale of India’s states, of why they build schools but do not staff them with teachers; favour a handful of companies so much that others slip into losses; wage water wars with their neighbours while allowing rampant sand mining and groundwater extraction; harness citizens’ right to vote but brutally crack down on their right to dissent. Reporting from six states over thirty-three months, award-winning investigative journalist M. Rajshekhar delivers a necessary account of a deep crisis that has gone largely unexamined.’


Barbara Harriss-White, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies, Oxford.
‘With cases meticulously explored in six states spanning the length and breadth of the country, Rajshekhar conveys the resilience of people faced with the State’s failure to deliver what it champions. Lacing its way throughout this book is evidence for political centralisation, domination, patronage and predation. This is the nearest to a holistic account of India’s everyday economy and its development and democratic failings that we are likely to have for a long while.’

Madhu Ramnath, Botanist, author of Woodsmoke and Leafcups.
‘By turns provocative, serious and humorous, Despite the State unravels the facade that passes off as democracy in India. Written in a terse staccato, Rajshekhar’s travelogue style is deceptively simple but backed by well-researched conclusions. Guided by the author through six states, the reader confronts the ways in which a democracy can be made dysfunctional, unnoticed by the people who believe in its existence. An important book for our times.’

Usha Ramanathan, scholar on the jurisprudence of law and poverty.
Despite the State is a remarkable, involved, engaging narrative that captures the voices and lived experiences of people, their aspirations, their despair and the ways in which they find the next possibility when what they have begins to crumble. We see the State as the people encounter it, woefully, often, as the entity that dismantles what the people have crafted for themselves and for their survival. It parses political economy into more than just the formal and the informal, and introduces us to a precariat which is made by State action and inaction. It is not a pretty tale; but it does help us identify the fault lines in our politics, and in our economy, and urges us to do something about it, now.’

Tridip Suhrud, writer and translator.
‘If the rich have ceased to belong to India, the Indian states have seceded from the poor; their object being to extract greater resources and accumulate power bereft of accountability. Despite the State is a frightening account of India’s neglect of basic functions of governance and minimal democracy.’

T.K. Arun, Consulting Editor, The Economic Times.
‘When a sensitive journalist puts his ear to the ground, as Rajshekhar did for three years, travelling and living in six states, he can be expected to hear the heartbeat of the land. But Despite the State is far more than sensibility and reportage of development challenges. It is, to use the author’s words, a hitchhiker’s guide to democratic palsy, lucid and informed by a unique perspective shaped by inquiries into everything from the human brain to political philosophy.’

M.S. Sriram, IIM Bangalore.
‘This journey through six different states – not as a travelogue but as an effort to have a deep understanding on how peoples’ lives have been changing, the emerging concerns and its connections with the State and its politics makes a fascinating reading. Each state is different, each page tells us a distinct story, each one of these is a Tolstoyesque story of unhappy families where the relationship between the citizens and the mai-baap Sarkar –the government–is being redefined as a patron-client relationship, a customer-provider relationship, a dole seeker-provider relationship or an episodic relationship of gratification and not necessarily the relationship between an empowered citizen and the sevaks including the Pradhan sevak.
This is a book full of stories: stories of real people making the best of their potential, uncomplaining and leading their lives towards contentment, and so self-contained that they do not even notice that the State is absent…. It is a book that makes for an easy reading, just flows through, but at the same time makes you pause. Makes the reader introspect and wonder if the larger picture is indeed true. Or how much more worse it can get. This is deeply insightful, and therefore deeply disturbing.’

Abhijit Sen, economist and former member of Planning Commission.
‘This is a book that I saw develop ever since Rajshekhar began his project and asked me what to look for in the ability of state governments to deliver. In fact, I ended up learning much more from it than I could advise on. While state government priorities, their administrative capacity and centre-state fiscal dynamics were what I thought he should concentrate on, his findings on non-State actors were far more interesting. I suppose that is why the title: Despite the State. But can people cope with failures of the State? While not necessarily conclusive, what emerges is a fascinating and very well-written quilted story of hope, anxiety and guile. Do read on.’