In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Political Economy of India

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Political Economy of the Nehruvian State
  • Agrarian Political Economy
  • Policy and Institutional Analysis
  • Comparative Studies of India’s Political Economy

Political Science Political Economy of India
Aseema Sinha
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0230


Independent India is seventy years old (1947–2017) and may be the fastest-growing economy in the world. Yet, poverty, inequalities, and digital divides continue to bedevil the Indian economy. This combined paradox of economic success and deprivation for many makes the study of Indian political economy complex, interesting, and consequential. Academic assessment of India affects the lives and livelihood of millions of people. India and South Asia are engaged in a consequential “human drama,” an evocative phrase used by Gunnar Myrdal (see Myrdal 1968, cited under Political Economy of the Nehruvian State). What could be more important to study? Every economic and social analysis of India needs to be based in an understanding of the background of politics and economics, especially their intersections. If we talk of economic growth, we need to simultaneously bring in our understanding of the basis of that growth or the issues of distributional impact. Almost all economic challenges faced by a developing and poor yet growing economy bring political and economic questions and facts to the fore. Political economy is at the heart of India and its ongoing developmental trajectory. Political economy analysis of India, therefore, spans a fascinating set of debates and scholarly issues. More recently, as the Indian economy has become more complex, new approaches, questions, and literature have emerged, making the study of India’s political economy a large, productive, and sprawling field. This collection of relevant citations starts with general books, which are large topic-based compendiums and edited volumes covering a large range of material and themes. They are good starting points for any researcher, as they bring together a number of authors and approaches under one book cover. India’s developmental trajectory can be broken into two broad phases. The first of these is the Nehruvian period, which, it could be argued, lasted until 1991. Then, in 1991, sustainable economic reforms set India onto a new growth path. The logic of the origins of reforms must be distinguished from the logic of the sustainability of reforms. Thus, the reform period 1985–current can be broken into two separate phases. This article is organized according to the following structure. The first section focuses on General Overviews of India’s politics and political economy. The next section focuses on the Political Economy of the Nehruvian State, which underlies the Nehruvian model of development. Some thematic subsections are also interspersed: Agrarian Political Economy and Regional Political Economy and Federalism apart from class and societal analysis of the liberalization period. Then, the rest of the bibliographic paper is organized by the different phases of the Political Economy of Economic Reforms in India, including Recent Monographs on Political Economy, the Reforms of the 1980s, and the Reforms of the 1990s, followed by more thematic subsections. A separate subsection is devoted to policy and institutional studies and Class Analysis, Labor, and Politics of Reforms.

General Overviews

The books outlined in this section are mostly general overviews, special issues, and edited books that cover a broad array of themes related to India’s political economy. They can be used as reference companions to anyone starting to read about India and can also be considered go-to volumes for recent debates and approaches to the subject. They are exhaustive and touch upon a large number of topic areas. They reveal that India’s political economy is complex and stratified and has been undergoing rapid changes in the last few decades. The annual publication India Briefing focuses on economic and political developments in each year. Jayal and Mehta 2010 analyzes diverse themes related to democratic changes by scholars who are experts on each topic. Ghate 2012 is a collection by economists and focuses on policy issues and economic debates. Joshi 2017 is a comprehensive introduction to the current possibilities and future challenges of the Indian economy. Kohli and Singh 2013 is a useful collection largely written by political scientists. Two volumes, Corbridge and Harriss 2000 and Corbridge, et al. 2013, provide a synthetic account of the rise of Hindu nationalism and economic changes underway in India. Ruparelia, et al. 2011 deploys a Polanyi framework to understand contradictory developments within India. An edited volume, Pai 2013 analyzes political developments across many states. Varshney 2013 is a collection of previously published articles touching upon the interaction between democratic development and economic issues. Jha and Schöttli 2019 is a special issue devoted to globalization in India and covers recent topics and a way to understand the Indian variety of globalization.

  • Corbridge, Stuart, and John Harriss. Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000.

    Focusing on multiple changes within India, this book brings a synthetic vision to analyzing the complexities of change in the 1990s. It uses the lens of invention and reinvention to understand how different actors and institutions have reimagined India across different phases: within the Constituent Assembly to imagine a new nation, the new developmental state in the 1950s and then the 1991 reforms that generated a powerful new political economy, and more recent imaginations that are more contested and subject to a process of conflicting interpretations.

  • Corbridge, Stuart, John Harriss, and Craig Jeffrey, eds. India Today: Economy, Politics and Society. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2013.

    This useful book is organized as a set of thirteen questions centered on the theme of politics and political economy. Questions such as “When and why did India take off?” and “Will India reap its demographic dividend?” are well researched with facts, and plausible causal arguments and answers to the questions are given. The book is useful for both research and teaching.

  • Ghate, Chetan, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Economy. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    A comprehensive collection written mostly by economists on diverse topics related to the Indian economy. The volume uses the prism of equitable and broad-based long-term growth to analyze a diverse set of themes and issues. Sections include historical developments, rural poverty, industrialization, social infrastructure, policy issues, macroeconomic policy reform, and India in the world economy. Many political economy issues are covered.

  • Jayal, Niraja Gopal, and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, eds. The Oxford Companion to Politics in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    A large, useful collection organized around the theme of Indian democracy. It seeks to bring together myriad themes and questions, all with a view to understand “the mechanisms by which democracy has been sustained” (p. xvi). Sections of the book include institutional setting, social cleavages and identity politics, political processes, ideological contestation, social movements, and politics and policy (including many political economy chapters), along with a section on India in the world.

  • Jenkins, Rob, ed. Special Issue: India’s Economic Reforms. India Review 3.4 (October 2004).

    This special issue is a collection of seven refereed articles on different aspects of India’s ongoing reform agenda. Articles focus on general overviews by an architect of India’s reform program (Ahluwalia), an analysis of regulatory agencies in telecom (Mukherji), financial liberalization (Echeverri-Gent), labor reforms (Jenkins), the role of ideas and the diaspora (Kapur), regional capital dimensions of India’s reform (Baru), and the changes in the composition of India’s middle classes (Sridharan).

  • Jha, Himanshu, and Jivanta Schöttli, eds. Special Issue: Globalization and Governance in India. India Review 18.1 (2019).

    Four research articles combined with an introduction (Mukherji) and an epilogue (Mitra) focus on different aspects of globalization and how the political economy of India is changing. The research articles focus on a theory of reform consolidation that offers a broad synoptic view of the whole trajectory of reforms undergirded by a theory of policy feedback (Sinha), a data driven analysis of the global managerial elites (Schöttli and Pohlmann), an institutional history of the right to information (Jha), and an analysis of microfinance in India (Pauli).

  • Joshi, Vijay. India’s Long Road: The Search for Prosperity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190610135.001.0001

    A broad and comprehensive survey of the structural—“growth challenge” and issue-specific aspects of the Indian economy—education, health and safety nets—bound by a coherent argument that the foundations of India’s search for prosperity are fragile and need nurturing. It provides policy suggestions along the way.

  • Kohli, Atul, and Prerna Singh, eds. Routledge Handbook of Indian Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.

    An edited volume that focuses on India’s historical legacy, leaders, political institutions, identity and community politics, political change, political economy, regional developments, and India’s place in the world. The political section chapters are marked by an attention to growth, redistribution, power of business, and provision of public goods.

  • Oldenburgh, Philip, ed. India Briefing. 10 vols. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1987–2005.

    The Asia Society sponsored the publication of ten annual briefings ending that cover a wide variety of themes analyzing developments within India. The ten volumes cover annual developments up to early 2000s. The purpose is to outline the facts in an analytical and academic manner. Policymakers and general readers will find it of much interest. A useful chronology of major developments in the previous one or two years is included at the end of each volume.

  • Pai, Sudha, ed. Handbook of Politics in Indian States: Regions, Parties and Economic Reforms. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    An edited volume with a wide range of book chapters touching upon new developments across states in terms of three themes: historical legacies of regionalism, political parties and electoral politics in key states, and social movements and economic reforms across key states.

  • Ruparelia, Sanjay, Sanjay Reddy, John Harriss, and Stuart Corbridge, eds. Understanding India’s New Political Economy: A Great Transformation? London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

    Adopting a rare synthetic approach, this edited volume aims to analyze three major transformations underway in India: the economic reform policies of 1991, the rise of Hindu nationalism, and the mobilization of diverse classes into the political realm. What are the causal connections between these three seemingly separate developments and how can we understand all three together? These questions form the ambition of this book.

  • Varshney, Ashutosh. Battles Half-Won: India’s Improbable Democracy. New Delhi: Viking, 2013.

    A handy collection of articles published previously by Ashutosh Varshney. The included articles center on the issue of the survival of India’s democracy and economic development. Many of the articles are written clearly and concisely and can serve as readings in courses and teaching.

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