To provide an overview of the arguments in the book, I have written a series of “short” articles, which you can find below.
Tamil Nadu is one of India’s exceptional states when it comes to delivering basic public services such as schooling, child care, water, public transport and the Public Distribution System. These services reach most people in the state and the quality is remarkable, compared to most other states of India.
My training in mainstream economics and my social background had convinced me that government programmes to address hunger were a waste of public resources. I adhered to the idea that they should be eliminated in favour of promoting economic growth. That changed in 2002 when I travelled to the Chambal Valley of Madhya Pradesh, which was suffering its third consecutive year of drought. Here is a short note on that transformation.
In many villages, people had fought for decades to demand one amenity after another. As an activist put it, they would struggle one year and get 100 metres of road, street lights required another protest, and many basic amenities had to be gained through sustained collective action. The impact of such protests over time was to gain an impressive array of services. Such protests date back at most to the 1970s.
The great social movements of the past such as Dravidian or Communist movements were top-led, whereas decentralized public action is initiated at the grassroots and led from within villages.
Tamil Nadu faced a series of favourable changes that made it possible for people to mobilize for their causes more effectively, and without less of a threat of adverse consequences.
The fact that common people started becoming assertive only helps us understand why governments became more responsive to popular demands. It does not explain why public services, rather than an alternate policy agenda such as land reforms or rapid industrialization became the favoured policy. This article discusses how that agenda came to be.