Politics of Human Development in an Indian State

Guest lecture by Dr. Manabi Majumdar, Fellow in Political Science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.


Human development, as opposed to sheer economic growth, conceives of development in broader terms of human capabilities and freedoms. From a social justice point of view, actualizing such broader developmental goals constitutes a major democratic priority. But in practice to what extent does a democratic country like India - its electoral democratic apparatus in particular - address human development concerns? This is the question that motivates this paper and this has an empirical focus on the Indian state of West Bengal. This state has the distinction of having a 34-year long tenure of Left rule which has suffered a setback in early 2011. Set within a theoretical debate on policies being a means for either social justice activism or governmentalism, this paper argues that despite the stated pro-poor stance of the left political regime, its human development planning efforts have remained quite inadequate. This lackluster human development performance of the state can be partly explained, the paper argues, by that fact that the erstwhile mobilizational politics of the left coalition has given way over time to its electoral calculus and its strategy of control via ‘party governmentalism'. This raises a larger question of the complex relationship between democracy and development.