(English captions & Hindi subtitles available)
Democracy and Anti-Corruption Protests in India
Grand Tamasha podcast
Milan Vaishnav (in conversation with Bilal Baloch)
April 5, 2022
About the Book:
How do ideas shape government decision-making? Bilal Baloch will be speaking to this question based off of his recent book, When Ideas Matter: Democracy and Corruption in India (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Comparativist scholarship, Baloch argues, conventionally gives unbridled primacy to external, material interests-chiefly votes and rents-as proximately shaping political behavior. These logics tend to explicate elite decision-making around elections and pork barrel politics but fall short in explaining political conduct during credibility crises, such as democratic governments facing anti-corruption movements. In these instances, he shows, elite ideas, for example concepts of the nation or technical diagnoses of socioeconomic development, dominate policymaking. Scholars leverage these arguments in the fields of international relations, American politics, and the political economy of development. But an account of ideas activating or constraining executive action in developing democracies, where material pressures are high, is found wanting. Resting on fresh archival research and over 120 original elite interviews, including an extensive deep-dive with former-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, When Ideas Matter traces where ideas come from, how they are chosen, and when they are most salient for explaining political behavior in India. Baloch examines two fascinating cases to explore the themes of his book: the 1975 Emergency and Indira Gandhi's response to the Jayaprakash movement, as well as the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government's stand-off with the India Against Corruption movement in 2012.
About the Author:
Bilal Baloch is Co-Founder and COO of Enquire AI. Prior to this, he was a Lecturer and Regional Director of the South Asia and Middle East & North Africa program at the Lauder Institute, Wharton School. From August 2017 to June 2019, he was a CASI Postdoctoral Research Fellow. At CASI, Bilal focused on the political economy of government decision-making in India and other developing democracies. His book, based on his doctoral and postdoctoral work, When Ideas Matter: Democracy and Corruption in India, was published by Cambridge University Press in Fall 2021.
Bilal has presented academic papers at several international conferences, including the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association and the International Studies Association. In addition to his scholarly publications, his commentary has appeared in a number of outlets including The Guardian, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, and The Hindu.
Prior to earning his Ph.D., Bilal was Chief of Staff to Dean Vali Nasr at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC. While at SAIS, he co-founded the annual SAIS Emerging Markets Series alongside former First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, John Lipsky. He also assisted in editing and contributed research toward Nasr’s book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat (2013). Bilal has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in international security, political economy, and comparative politics at Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Bilal completed his undergraduate studies in philosophy, logic, and the scientific method at The London School of Economics where he was the Anthony Giddens Scholar, and holds a Master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he was the Samuel J. Elder Scholar. He earned his doctorate in political science with graduate funding from Oxford University. You can follow him on Twitter @BilalABaloch
Nafis Aziz Hasan:
Hello and welcome to the first event in CASI Spring Seminar Series. My name is Nafis Hasan, and if you've come for these events in the fall, you've probably seen me before. I'm a post-doctoral research scholar at CASI, and along with my colleagues, moderate this series. The seminar series this spring comprises talks by a diverse range of scholars from across the world on a variety of critical and contemporary topics. Our speakers come from a wide range of disciplines, including political science, anthropology, economics, and architecture and design. We have these talks typically on Thursdays at noon, Eastern Time and more information about these can be found on the CASI website.
Before I introduce speaker, just to put in a plug for next Thursday, Jan 27th, we have Professor Nikita Sud from Oxford University who will talk about her exciting new book on "The Making of Land and the Making of India". So please register for that event on the CASI's website if you're interested. Without further ado, I'm delighted to welcome, Dr. Bilal Baloch. Dr. Baloch is the Co-founder and COO of Enquire AI. Prior to this, he was a lecturer and regional director of the South Asia and Middle East and North Africa program at the Lauder Institute, Wharton School.
From August 27 to June 2019, he was a CASI post doctoral research fellow. [inaudible 00:01:27] Dr. Baloch, focused on the political economy of government decision making in India and other developing democracies. His book is based on his doctoral and post doctoral work, which is called, When Ideas Matter: Democracy and Corruption in India, and was published by Cambridge University Press in fall 2021. Dr. Baloch has presented academic papers at several international conferences, including the Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association and the International Studies Association. In addition to his scholarly publications, his commentary has appeared in a number of outlets, including the Guardian, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post and The Hindu.
Today book based on his book, Dr. Baloch, will be speaking to the question, how do ideas shape government decision making? Drawing on new archival research and over one 20 original elite interviews, including an extensive deep dive with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the book traces where ideas come from, how they're chosen and when they're most salient for explaining political behavior in India. In the book, Dr. Baloch, examines two fascinating cases to explore the themes of his book, the 1975 emergency and Indira Gandhi's response to the Jayaprakash movement, as well as the Manmohan Singh led UPA government's stand off with the India Against Corruption movement in 2012.
Before I turn it over to a speaker, just to let you know, if you have any questions at the end, please use the chat box to send them directly to me, Nafis Hasan, and I will call on you to oppose your question to a presenter. Please keep your questions brief and to the point so we can get to as many as possible and apologies in advance if we can't get to everyone. Also, please use the chat box only for questions. Finally, please be mindful about muting your mics throughout the duration of the event. And also please remember that you cannot this presentation without prior permission from our presenter. Once again, thank you very much for your interest and for being here today. With that, I'm going to turn it to, Dr. Baloch, to take us away.
Fantastic. Can everyone hear me? Awesome. Nafis, thank you so much. Thank you to Tariq, Juliana, the entire team at CASI, of course, for inviting me here today. It's really a pleasure to see some familiar faces as well as some new ones. And thank you also to our friends over in India for joining at this hour. I can't promise that my talk will keep you awake, but I'll try. My talk today as mentioned by, Nafis, is based on my book, When Ideas Matter: Democracy and Corruption in India. It came out with Cambridge University Press during the winter and is available across different jurisdictions and markets, especially in India and the US. And my goal here today is to talk you through some of the salient ideas, both theoretical and empirical in the book. And then, of course, have a discussion with you all and learn from you all as well about your perspectives and thoughts on the argument of the book. So let's dive in.
My book fundamentally seeks to move beyond purely rationalist theories of Indian politics that have tended to dominate the field and instead highlight the importance of ideas in elite political behavior. Of course, the message is also not so simple. I theorize an interaction between the ideas of government decision makers and political and state power structures. In most developing countries, state institutions are not neutral in, but rather reflect government decision makers, preferences, and priorities. Fundamentally, this requires us to understand decision making elites and leaders specifically, and how they develop and deploy their preferences to structure institutions. I denote elites as decision makers within the executive arena, chiefly the PM and include the cabinet and other offices, party officials, and institutions that interact regularly with the executive and maintain key political economy powers. The specific set of ideas that I reduce and identify in the book revolve around concepts of the nation as well as technical ideas around economic development.
The motivation for the study began to develop during my first year of grad school in 2013, when several governments from Chile, Brazil, and Mexico to Turkey and Indonesia faced social movements calling for less corrupt or more transparent governance. Some decision makers responded by crushing these movements while others sought to co-opt. Yet others fell into negotiated concessions. A closer look revealed that government's response and these movements couldn't be examined in isolation. Rather, they represented the culmination of a series of domestic and international pressures that together with collective action on the street represented what I referred to as a credibility crisis for incumbent state elites. So the entire crisis had to be interrogated, if we were to understand government response to movements taking on the corrupt state narrative. And my cases illuminate further.
The first case is that of the suppression of the Jayaprakash or JP movement. Though between 1967 and 72, the national economic and political mood in India was increasingly positive, the subsequent three years marked a deterioration resulting from a domestic and international economic and energy crisis, a recession, growing unemployment, and union strikes and rampant inflation created a sense of crisis in the country. Meanwhile, corruption scandals implicating senior officials, including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi continued to rise. These conditions precipitated the national relevance and rise of the JP movement, which you can see on the left of your screen there. Similarly, between 2004 and 10, India's GDP was growing at an unprecedented average of 8%, inflation was contained at around 5% and the US-India [inaudible 00:07:28] new deal raised the national morale and international recognition.
However, by early 2011, as the effects of the global financial crisis and an international oil price shop dug in, the government raised spending at an unsustainable rate while private investment fell by four percentage points. Critically, inflation was running twice as high as the emerging world average. A sense of crisis gripped the nation, worsening this climate, large scale corruption, scandals implicating senior government officials, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were brought to the public's attention. An erosion of support for the ruling UPA followed, which triggered the national emergence of the India Against Corruption movement. A photo of its leaders. You can see there on the right.Indira Gandhi's Congress government responded to the JP movement by suppressing them through instituting an internal emergency. While in the contemporary case, the UPA government ended up responding to the IAC through negotiated concessions.
In exploring these divergent responses, I identify two ways in which ideas play a role in Indian politics. The first is undergirding populist governments. Beyond its bluster, populism is considered a thin centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups. Populism is often seeped in concepts of the nation, which play a constitutive role in political realignments in many distinct countries. Second, ideas can serve as a checks and balance mechanism. We know from a wide range of longstanding academic scholarship, that a separation of powers reduces arbitrary behavior among government officials. But which mechanism does the counter balancing means explication case by case?
In existing work on India, there are two main ways. One, is institutional with the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the presidency actors, referee institutions. And the second is political interests, where several political parties accountable to different constituencies check one another's authority in government. I introduce a third mechanism, ideological counterbalancing, resulting from the interaction between state elite's ideas and the dispersal of power spatially and historically across the state. We have observed such arguments being made in the realm of international politics, American politics and studies of multi later organizations. But a theory of ideas constraining action in developing world context where material pressures are high is found wanting.
And so here are some of the ways in which my argument looks to go deeper in our understanding of ideas in Indian politics. I'll elaborate upon these throughout the presentation, but let me touch upon two factors here. Factor number one is, where do ideas come from? Throughout the book, I treat ideas as most constructivists do, a coherent and relatively stable set of beliefs or values. However, and despite both being a subset of these ideas, I denote political party ideology as distinct from technocratic policy prescription. This allows us to better understand where ideas come from. Party ideology, for example, is predicated on the creation of a political organization that would not otherwise exist in its absence. Whereas technocratic policy prescriptions are formed largely by disparate set of social, cultural, and economic assumptions, a zeitgeist, if you will, that are overwhelmingly dominant in public discourse at a given point in time.
Therefore, I look for ideas in the origins and development of political parties. For example, their transformative leaders and historically contingent births, as well as international institutions and forum where technocratic ideas emerge and spread. Importantly, true ideas do not always win out, right? People can hold seemingly irreconcilable beliefs, and these can outline different strategies to guide their lives. We see this, especially among today's populists who seek to institutionalize their ideological repertoires in order to actively and often strategically participate in the definition and reproduction of group boundaries and inequalities. Such efforts can legitimize suppressive moves towards specific populations as we saw in the American south during segregation or an apartheid, South Africa. And this in turn opens up space for further political contestation as decision makers seat to make policy decisions, reflect their preferred interpretation and ensure their political palatability.
The second factor where highlighting here is uncertainty. Resting principally on the work of political scientists, Mark Blythe, as well as insights from cognitive and social psychology, I argue that in crisis episodes marked by high uncertainty, decision makers are faced with critical junctures. Here, they are unsure about what their interests are, let alone how to maximize the utility of these interests. In such instances of uncertainty, while the brain may not evaluate utility rationally, it does track subjective values and beliefs in a systematic way. These subjective beliefs or ideas guide actionable understandings of causal relationships within the crisis faced and are not merely epiphenomenal. So when anti-corruption movements emerge, for example, government corruption has been exposed through scandals or legal investigations, which then heightens the sense of insecurity and threat perception within government and lowers elite's credibility in the eyes of the public. Decision makers then seek to re-constitute interests and establish narratives regarding the causation behind the crisis and functions of the respective anti-corruption movements. And in this scenario, ideas serve as weapons between decision making elites in the struggle to diagnose the crisis and reestablish credibility to reduce uncertainty.
Quick word on the data and method, as Nafis mentioned at the start, the contemporary case utilizes over 120 interviews with state elites, including figures such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as a close study of newspaper reports. And the historical case was quite tricky given the restricted access the government of India provides researchers of this period. Many official documents have been destroyed while Indira Gandhi's private papers and government records are not fully open to scholars. One way I've been able to overcome this death of primary evidence is through excavating private correspondence from related archives that include the actors under study. For example, uncovering diplomatic cables from the US and UK, where I've found firsthand observations in interviews with Congress Party leaders and other decision makers from the period, which alongside recently released private letters. Can paint a clearer picture in support of the book's main argument.
Very briefly, I'll be talking about some of the protagonists and people I'll be referencing throughout the talk that you can see here on the bottom left there, then RBI Governor C. Rangarajan with Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia at a meeting with the chief executives of banks in August 1995. Top left, one of the core architects of 'The Emergency', S. S. Ray alongside Indira Gandhi. And at the bottom right there, PM Singh alongside Congress Party dynasts, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. Given the broad audience of this talk, I'm sure a lot of these people are familiar to you.
Let's dive into the cases. Indira Gandhi became the undisputed leader of her government from 1971. That year Congress swept national polls and one or two thirds majority in the Lok Sabha. Gandhi had risen to power on a populous platform rooted in ideas of secularism, socialism, and the representation of minorities, which formed the government's legitimizing nationalist narrative. The 71 India-Pakistan war propelled her prestige domestically as India defeated a regional foe while asserting its national interest. By March 1972, once state assembly election results had come in, Congress established its power across India. The party's dominance, which had been fading since the demise of founding PM Nehru, had been revived by Mrs. Gandhi. While in office, Gandhi [inaudible 00:15:53] estate power to reshape society. A process that began by centralizing executive power to monopolize decision making. Between 71 and 75, the Congress became less of a federalized structure. Gandhi replaced Congress chief ministers and other state leaders who had an independent base with loyalists who aligned with her ideologically and politically.
Indeed, a group of powerful congressmen who had been members of her so-called kitchen cabinet and had done her bidding since she rose to office in 1966, were now in key positions across the state, within her cabinet, as the president of the Congress Party, chief minister in key battleground states, such as S. S. Ray of West Bengal, and even included the President of India at this time, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. They all shared in the nationalist narrative expounded by, Gandhi, and were fully cooperative in the decision making process leading to 'The Emergency'.
When the JP protests first emerged in early 1974, Mrs. Gandhi sought to disparage them. However, as the movement grew by the end of that year and the presence of right wing groups, chiefly, the RSS became visible, Gandhi and her advisors became more hostile. In a private letter unseen until 2015, S. S. Ray and other close advisors wrote to the PM in January 9075 to map out what would go on to be the blueprint followed during 'The Emergency'. On March 6th, 1975, JP led a procession of half a million citizens to parliament. Many people joined in from students, members of the Gandhian Sarvodaya movement. And critically, the largest mobilizing force was the RSS. After all, we know from social movement literature, that are nationally mobilized protests, mutually referencing groups that are distinct in nature, often coalesce.
Mrs. Gandhi, however, only saw one set of mobilizers. The Hindu newspaper commented at the time that the RSS presence within the movement had "Infuriated Mrs. Gandhi to the point of ruling out the possibility of any talks with JP in the near future." On 12th, June 1975, the movement received [inaudible 00:18:02]. Justice Sinha of the Allahabad High Court, dealt a blow to Gandhi by implicating the PM in a corrupt campaign practices case. Gandhi star came crashing down as the conviction meant that she could not seek reelection or hold public office for six years. Within 30 minutes of that judgment, close advisors, [inaudible 00:18:19], S. S. Ray, [inaudible 00:18:20], and Mrs. Gandhi son, Sanjay Gandhi, gathered at the Prime Minister's house. As Mrs. Gandhi decided to appeal the court's decision, demonstrations erupted outside parliament and her home on 13th, June. The newspapers also joined the chorus for the PM to step down.
On June 18th party leaders met to commit their fullest faith and confidence Indira Gandhi. And this is where Congress Party President, D. K. Barooah, famously remarked that Indira is India and India is Indira in a distasteful hearkening to similar comments made by Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, with regards to Hitler and Germany. Now, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had scheduled to hear Gandhi's appeal on 14th, July, Justice Krishna Iyer, the vacation judge of the SC gave both sides a Pyrrhic victory on June 24th through pronouncing a conditional stay in office for Gandhi. Both the government and protestors claimed victory. For the latter, the conditional stay was a snub to the government's credibility while for government decision makers, the order virtually exonerated Gandhi standings.
Buoyed by the decision, JP led a huge rally at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan on 25th June. He urged citizens from students to the police not to take orders from a disqualified head of a discredited government in large visible support with the rightest parties, as well as the RSS and its leaders. In the early hours of the morning, under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, JP and his supporters were arrested as a state of emergency have been declared.
Unlike the Congress government just described, the Congress led UPA government from 2004 to 14, functioned with a high degree of internal fractionalization. Policymaking was bifurcated among government elites associated with two centers of power, congress Party President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This bifurcation resulted in a polycentric institutional structure within the executive and ruling government overall. These two policy making loci had an institutional basis that allowed the establishment of a de facto parallel cabinet, the National Advisory Council, or NAC under the chairpersonship of coalition leader, Gandhi, alongside the traditional cabinet and Executive Officers of Prime Minister Singh. This gave the Gandhi family dynast and her allies unfettered access to the executive, which steeply diminished the subjective power of Manmohan Singh.
This polyvocality manifested at both the dialectic and institutional levels in public statements, actions, as well as negotiating committees and subcommittees that involve decision makers in the NAC, PMO, cabinet parliament and the Congress Party. The India Against Corruption movement or IAC movement emerged in early 2011 and faced off with the government in three prominent waves over the following two years. The first wave lasted until April 2011. It stressed significant divisions within the government between different institutions, namely the PMO and cabinet, on the one hand, and the NAC on the other. These factions not only diverged on their prescribed level of engagement with the movement, preventing a cohesive initial response. But also encourage the movement to put further pressure on the government.
This culminated in the establishment of a joint committee of both movement leaders and cabinet ministers to negotiate on an anti-corruption Ombudsman Bill, much to the chagrin of Congress Party politicians, as well as the Prime Minister and his advisors. The Prime Minister was deeply antagonized, but came up against the NAC and their supporters within the government, chiefly party, president Sonia Gandhi. The NAC, after all, was sympathetic toward the movement. Many of whom had been former colleagues and peers. The second wave of protests kicked off later that Summer and continued to bring about fishers within the government, not only between separate institutions at the executive level, but between coalitions, specifically regional party partners. Meanwhile, the continued exposure of corruption scandals together with the failure of the joint committee to reach a resolution led to the government being labeled as under policy paralysis. As it grew, the movement's mobilization came to include support from opposition parties, such as the BJP and members of the RSS.
In an offensive move, some Congress politicians decided to arrest protest leader, Anna Hazare. This agitation culminated in an in-principle parliamentary agreement on the movement's demands of an anti-corruption Ombudsman or Lokpal, within days of Sonia Gandhi son and Congress heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi, speaking in parliament in support of the movement. Very much against the tide of decision makers around and including Prime Minister Singh. Winter 2011 onwards for 12 months, inter and intergovernmental fractures intensified as divergent policy prescriptions toward the crisis concretized.
By November 2012, when the protest came to an end, key coalition allies had all left the government. In the main, partners departed the coalition and decision makers and the NAC protested the government's tighter controls over the economy to ease the credibility crisis. Meanwhile, the Comptroller and Auditor General's preliminary report on the Coal allocation scandal burst open the ciphers calls from protestors for the Prime Minister who headed the ministry to be investigated and for him to resign. As the protest began to wane and become more politicized by Autumn 2012, in a quick move, its leaders created a political party that brought the collective action to an end.
So what role did ideas play in each of these cases? Some of the quotes I'll be showing are reflective of ideation frames and their clear impact on decision making. The Congress government made up entirely of party politicians possessed a homogenous ideological outlook enshrined in the Congress Party's concepts of the nation under, Mrs. Gandhi. This was anchored in secularism with a preference for socialism and focus on minority rights. Prime Minister Gandhi, and the Congress's concepts of the nation dangerously clashed with their diagnosis of the JP movement as mobilized by and for right wing religious nationalists in India.
This populist or thin ideology had been concretizing in the lead up to, and after the unified Congress' split in 1969. And played a constitutive role in political realignments, in which moral boundaries were redrawn between groups and categories of us and them. The party's ideology interacting with a strong centralized state served as the rationale for the executive to build solidarity within the government and suppress ideological others within the JP movement. Under the UPA, diverse decision making elites deployed and contested various combinations of ideas to explain and to resolve the crisis of the nationwide IAC movement.
In the UPA as well as Congress Party politicians advancing a secular nationalist narrative, there are also technocrats, bureaucrats, and even activists, part of elite decision making. And they can be grouped into two main ideation camps. Those that utilized a liberal economic framework to diagnose the crisis. And those that possessed a social reformist view. These two groups coiled their ideas around economic and social development. During the crisis, economic liberals, mainly around and including the Prime Minister, accorded primacy to deficit reduction that would imply a contractionary effect on the economy to get inflation under control. To them, this was the proximate cause of the collective action in crises they faced. These decision makers sought to signal a credible government commitment to stabilizing the macroeconomic framework, thereby improving conditions for investment and restoring growth to moderate citizens' anger. As such, they acted to minimize, and at times, diminish government engagement with the IAC movement leaders. In contrast, social reformists brought mainly into the NAC, followed from an Keynesian response to political upheaval.
Implicitly or explicitly, pushing for an expansionary fiscal stimulus through strengthening state-led social welfare programs. The weaknesses of which, to these elites, was the approximate cause of the anti-corruption movement and crisis overall. They wanted full government engagement with the IAC. Secular nationalists in the Congress Party, meanwhile, in this similar vein to the historical case, wanted to punish the movement which they saw as mobilized by the RSS and the right wing BJP, their chief opposition. These divergent frameworks dispersed in authoritative positions of power, not only varied in their perception of social cohesion and stability as it pertained to anti-corruption collective action, but also in shaping key public policy discourse for 10 years of UPA rule. In this way, on broader policy matters, the state experienced a Karl Polanyi style, double transformation concurrently, with decision makers favoring markets and managing political and social consequences through developing a welfare state at the same time. Divergent perspectives and diagnoses interacting with divided executive institutions and committees in the UK resulted in an ideological checks and balance mechanism on arbitrary government action against the movement.
Now, it's important to note here that to illustrate the causal weight of ideas is challenging, especially as compared to materially driven causal processes. In my argument, decision makers analyze the crisis and form responses through their ideation frames through the concepts of the nation, as well as technical ideas around social and economic development. Two key methods employed here helped to illustrate the causal weight of ideas. The first is locating an ideational source, external to the situation being explained. Where do these ideas come from and when and through whom and do they enter decision making? And second, evidencing the weight of ideas in the face of material pressures. For example, the interests of large capital or electoral alliances and weak governments. This exercise was critical for me illustrating the stability and exogenative of ideation frames.
For the historical period, for example, I examined, Mrs. Gandhi's ideological vector since she became in Prime Minister in 1966. Gandhi immediately sought to enhance the Congress governments and therefore the state's power and autonomy over policy making in line with her ideological outlook. She immediately shut down emergent efforts to open up the economy, deepened her nationalization efforts, subsumed apex state institutions under the Congress for social policy ends. Engaged in an ideologically rooted turf battle with members of her own party, which culminated in the party split in 1969 and gave explicit instruction to party politicians to clamp down on right wing communal groups. Ideas originated both from abroad and from home and became enshrined within the Congress Party since independent. For example, internationally, there was Soviet inspiration for rapid state led industrialization with rural areas, a source of food workers and manufacturing surplus. And it is worth mentioning here that there is little evidence to suggest that, Gandhi, was an intellectually committed socialist herself.
However, there was a long and entrenched history, domestically and within the Congress Party of the ideas of elites, such as statistician and technocrat, P. C. Mahalanobis, which provided an intellectual rationale for the Nehruvian development path. This conceptualization was not always strictly socialist, but it certainly relied on an expanded autonomous and strong state sector. Indira and her two closest advisors, [inaudible 00:29:47] and Mohan Kumaramangalam, she had a set of intellectually dedicated though pragmatic proponents of the need to strengthen the public sector primarily through industrial licensing. Elsewhere, we know about the established master narrative of Indian secularism, which denotes religious equidistance rather than religious non involvement by the state and has been principally represented by the Congress Party during and after the Indian Independence Movement. Indeed, Indira Gandhi's father and founding PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, believed that powerful national leaders, especially in the Congress Party would ensure the dominance of the secularist factor in matters of the state. Gandhi did just that.
I traced these ideas closely in how they developed throughout, Indira Gandhi and her government's rise to power at each party meeting in private letters between decision makers, as well as the impact of these ideas on concrete policy decisions consistently before, during and after, otherwise, strategic moments such as elections. In the UPA, meanwhile, in addition to party politicians in the Congress tradition just discussed, technocrats, bureaucrats and even activists with dominant frameworks around social and economic development held key levers of policymaking power. For example, economic liberal technocrats and to the Indian government in the late 80s and early 90s when the nation's main economic architecture was being restructured. Despite political pressures and a weak government, they pushed their reform agenda through. These decision makers then took up key policy making positions in the UPA as members of the cabinet, PMO, and senior bureaucracy.
I not only trace these elites ideas, but I show the strength of the ideation commitments in the face of electoral pressures. For example, during the 91 Balance of Payment Crisis and later the [inaudible 00:31:31] New Deal. Meanwhile, reformers, technocrats, and activists emerged as part of the right space to movements of the 90s and early 2000s. They became the Vanguard for renewed nationwide civic activism, and went on to take up authoritative positions of power during the UPA as part of the Congress Party, President Sonia Gandhi's de facto parallel cabinet, the NAC. Many of these political appointees were former bureaucrat turned activists who had observed firsthand the weakening of the state over previous two decades. And for them, the degenerative effects this had on human, social, and economic development. This is an important facet of data gathering as idea carriers are not only clearer to trace among technocrats, but their presence and [crosstalk 00:32:13] executive decision making illustrates the influence of specific preferences, collective action, and epistemic communities and government.
For example, I dive deeply into the writing speeches and policy prescriptions of technocrats during their time in PhD programs or work in multilateral organizations or across the state bureaucracy. Indeed, not all decision makers are subject to the same motivations. Decision makers are elected officials who, for example, need to accrue votes and rents to fund and win elections. Others are bureaucrats, or yet others are technocrats or even civic activists who are not driven by the same incentives as elected officials. We see this most clearly in the UPA case. In my argument, therefore, I try to remain sensitive not only to the sources of power externally, votes and rents, that established works that espoused, but also the distribution of power over policy making internally, which my argument privileges. The distinction between ideas and interests is not just semantic, but has important conceptual implications. Chiefly, that political action is agency centered.
And so in this sense, it's worth quickly highlighting two of the prominently featured elites themselves, Manmohan Singh and Indira Gandhi. State elites are not analytically substitutable. Take for instance, Indira Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Mrs. Gandhi was, to a large extent, a product of her historical and institutional environment selected by the party organization due to her father's prominence and the perception among party elites of her malleability. But she also ended up transforming the executive branch as well as institutions across the state from the Supreme Court to the Election Commission with significant, arguably negative consequences that echo until this day. And Dr. Singh, while circumscribed in his own words by the constraints of both his party and patchwork a coalition system, arguably changed the course of contemporary Indian politics with the 1991 reforms. In both cases, these leaders represented a particular set of ideas which became especially salient as special critical junctures.
Ideas give individuals guidance on how to make sense of the world and act within it. And a plausible candidate for ideas that resonate across context is the concept of the nation and its constituent parts. We've observed this in many decades, across many countries, especially postcolonial context with leaders, such as Obi-Wan, Stalin, Ataturk, Nasser, to name but a few distinct varying leaders who all lent on concepts of the nation to rule. Such leadership and such ideas, as I've mapped earlier, are particularly salient during crisis moments from independence, from colonial powers to droughts, regional wars, riots, economic disruptions, and more. Leaders are, therefore, best seen as their Vanguard of a particular set of ideas. For example, Indira Gandhi, like her father, was a clear advocate for an expanded state. She actively believed in using the power of the state to redistribute wealth. She made a conscious effort to dilute the fundamental right to property and succeeded so that she could nationalize the banking and insurance industries.
She also made a concerted pitch for the votes of Dalits and Muslims, though she shied away from extending quotas to OBC. Additionally, Mrs. Gandhi, much like, Narendra Modi today, was able to mix ideological appeals and populous promises with an unfettered authoritarian street. Populism is very distinct from patronage in clientelism as it does not involve quid pro quo. The promises are instead part of a grand narrative around which leaders bill groundswell. For Mrs. Gandhi, her nationalism locked her into certain behaviors and specific actions. This obviously makes her very different from someone like Manmohan Singh, who was a technocratic far less transformative leader. Manmohan Singh straddled the senior Indian bureaucracy and multilateral institutions such as the South Commission before his rise to finance minister and then PM. He carried with him internationalist and liberal economic ideas. From his time as an undergraduate at Cambridge to his doctoral work at the University of Oxford, Manmohan Singh became skeptical and then critical of India's prevailing dirigiste political economy.
This view went seriously against the grain of the prominent frameworks in India at the time. During his early years in government, however, Singh, and others found that those who spoke out against the established planning frameworks were sidelined. His time as finance minister when he was the architect of India's economic liberalization to then Prime Minister, allowed Singh the prospect to implement the liberal economic mechanisms that he had come to believe in so deeply. And so it's no surprise that the PM references technical interventions as part of the liberalization reforms, such as regulation, increasing competition and taxation among others as mechanisms that have helped for corruption in India. We're nearly there.
Bringing it all together. What does all this mean? In democracies, policy power is largely about collective action, which involves coordination efforts and the ability to affect others' preferences to shape specific and eventually share political outcomes. As discussed, there are no objective readings of interests without making recourse to ideas. Perceptions of the outside world are mediated through ideation processes, which can different forms, no mechanism for this deliberation took shape in the Congress government under, Indira Gandhi, leading up to enduring the crisis she and her government faced. In fact, Gandhi's support in her government was such that she was able to subsume all collective institutions and committees, chiefly, her own cabinet to Institute the suppressive emergency decree.
Meanwhile, there was a proliferation of committees and cabinet meetings in the UPA especially during the crisis moment from 2011 to 12, which acted as one of the arenas for where we observed the checks and balance tape form. Cognitive Frames, therefore, make it possible for decision makers to diagnose the crisis by acting as interpretive frameworks that describe the workings of the political, economic, and social world through defining its constitutive elements and providing a general understanding of their proper and improper causal inter relations. Hence, by deploying their ideas, decision makers reduce courses of government action, which is most notably the case under situations of the high uncertainty.
Just as a final point, the main takeaway points of the book, which I hope all of you will read. And for those of you interested, especially those of you who are young scholars and academics do get in touch, and I can arrange for the book to reach you. My book highlights an ideological checks and balance mechanism that adds to existing institutional and interest based explanations around constraints on elite decision making in developing country contexts. The ideas based approach to constraints on political behavior has more currency when explaining political behavior during times of crisis. And we've seen this discussed in foreign relations work, in work on American politics and history, but not on developing country context, such as India, where the study of democracy, I would argue, is undermined by a failure to account for how individuals or groups see themselves, who they identify with, and the courses of action they consider legitimate.
Nafis Aziz Hasan:
Thank you so much, Dr. Baloch. That was a really fascinating account of the book. We have a couple of people who have questions. I'm just going to call upon them to ask their question. Can I ask Prateek Vijayavargia to ask question?
Yeah, I'm I audible now?
Nafis Aziz Hasan:
Yeah. Thanks for the talk. My question is as follows. Some political scientists have described the politics of the Aam Aadmi Party as post ideological. How much of this lack of ideology do you think can be attributed to the Party's origins in the India Against Corruption movement that attracted citizens from across the ideological spectrum? And also does Arvind Kejriwal technocratic worldview that emanate from his educational background, such as his training at IIT, and his stint with the Indian Revenue Service play a role in shaping the party policies today? Thank you.
That's an excellent question, Prateek. And if you want to think through how movements turn into parties, we have someone else here who's probably best place to talk about that. Not me. But I will say this, I don't believe in the statement of post ideological, just as much as I don't believe in statements like the end of history. I think we have to separate out the Aam Aadmi as a party versus the India Against Corruption movement. And I think movements by their very nature and very distinct contexts as they mobilize, and as they gain prominence end up including mutually referencing groups that could be highly distinct, but have similar aims, right? We've even seen this in high pressure scenarios, such as Iran leading up to the 1979 revolution where Islamist's, communists, liberals came together to overthrow the Shah. Right? Different kind of protest movement, different kind of collective action, but very distinct groups of different hues and ideas that came together.
I think some of that remains and survived in the Aam Aadmi Party. In fact, I would argue that the party has more coherence ideologically than even the movement did, right? The focus on local level governance, the approach to economic development in the urban center, the kind of remarks that have come out of the Aam Aadmi Party over the last couple of years, especially over how to treat the private sector and establish private sector investment. I think all points to a nebulous but an emergent ideological view that they have.
And is that tied to Arvind Kejriwal's background? Yeah, absolutely. I would not just point to his education though, but I would also point to his time in the Indian bureaucracy and his own time spent trying to learn from and mimic the social movements that sprouted the right space movements that sprouted in the 1990s. And so I think there is very much a focus on super ground up level politics. I think there's very much a focus on technicians cleaning up government and therein lies a particular approach to how they think about governance. I don't think the Aam Aadmi Party is post ideological, going back to your original question.
Nafis Aziz Hasan:
Thank you. Next question, we have a question from, Indivar. Indivar, would you like to ask a question?
Hi, thanks, Nafis. Hi, Bilal. Thank you so much for the talk and congratulations on your book. I had a question that might not quite be within the scope of what you spoke today on the book, but I think is related, which is, I would love to hear you say a little bit about the idea of corruption itself and when does corruption matter as an idea? And the question is motivated from just noticing across international context that corruption is really successful at dismantling left wing populous, centrist governments, but sort of infective against right wing populous. I would just love to hear from you how corruption is mobilized in these words. Thank you.
That's an excellent question. And thank you for asking that. This project actually began with that question. I wanted to look at, when does corruption become salient? But quite frankly, when the more I looked at the Indian history, certainly post mid 1960s and looked at similar contexts as well, it became increasingly clear that at the level of which corruption is digested by people on the ground, citizens in daily life, it's actually a constant. What Jennifer Bussell calls the distinction between grand corruption and petty corruption. If you think about the imagination of what should make corruption salient, should be the experiences of everyday citizens and information and exposure of corruption. But I found that actually as many studies as there were at that time, certainly, when you disclose corruption allegations and scandals to citizens, are they more or less likely to support particular candidates?
There were studies that were showing that it can lead to dissuading citizens from supporting a candidate if their corruption is exposed. And in other studies, it showed actually that corruption can be seen as a badge of honor or that there's other considerations. And so I treat corruption as a constant in the study, not as something that comes and goes. Now within that, I think you're absolutely right, that there are certainly points of salience. Now, what are they? And I think I attack that in the book. Let's just talk about that for a second, in terms of broader what I call credibility crisis, where other pressures are emergent, right? Those can be domestic pressures around the performance of the economy, jobs. It can be international pressures, exogenous, oil shocks, financial crises, so on and so forth. And so I think I would argue that the salience of corruption, even in context, where corruption is a constant is tied to a much broader set of domestic and international variables, specifically to do with economic performance.
Now, your second question I think is really fascinating about, are these movements more effective against left wing or right wing governments? And I think just empirically and anecdotally, I'm not sure that the distinction is so clear cut. In 2013, the Turkish premier Erdoğan faced the Gezi Park protests, right? Corruption was salient by then. Corruption scandals were salient by then but the collective action happened. Now, why they didn't succeed was because of the particular idiosyncratic makeup of the Turkish policy. Erdogan was able to reshuffle alliances and suppress the Gezi Park protests, which again, a couple of years later didn't stop from a potential coup coming in from the army, which, again, he thwarted.
I think the second part of the book speaks to taking individuals and leaders seriously. My hypothesis would be that, yes, absolutely. We should interrogate the differences between left wing and right wing parties to be able to thwart anti-corruption collective action. But I think it's also important to look at the leaders themselves and to the extent to which they have subsumed the power and structures of the state. Because populists on the left and right do have distinctions. The right wing populists tend to make more appeals to identity. Left wing populists tend to sort of appeal more to their people. But ultimately, they both look to subsume non-elected institutions, which is the key variable in what allows them to suppress security institutions, judicial institutions, to be able to knock back a movement. I think that's where the key lies. I hope that that speaks to your question.
Nafis Aziz Hasan:
Thank you. Thank you so much. We have another question from, Srinivas Yerramsetti, would you like to ask a question?
Yes. Thank you. I wrote it down here. Do you see any connection between the technocratic politicized reform of the Manmohan Singh era? Because Montek Singh himself has called it reforms by stealth and the technocratic populism of the kind that Arvind Subramanian has steered through new welfarism that followed. And the second question is considering that you also seem to think that the socialization in India's bureaucracy is technocratic, what is your own view of the idea of technocracy and technocracy's role in India's history of the past decade?
That's an excellent question. Look, as a sidebar, I run a tech firm that is focused on subject matter expertise. I can't possibly criticize technocrats or experts and their role in any walk of life. No, I'm joking, but I think the distinction is an interesting one, but I would like to push back against it. I don't think technocracy is devoid of politics, which was one of the assumptions in your question. The policy prescriptions of technocrats like Manmohan Singh and Arvind Subramanian have to swim in political waters. Right? So the reforms that were pushed in 1991 by Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, were pushed to the extent that the political window allowed and that the crisis precipitated. The kind of technocratic solutions that Arvind Subramanian advanced during his time in government at the early part of Prime Minister, Modi's tenure were not pushed during a crisis period.
And so arguably, there were narrower windows to have them swim in political waters that he needed to jive with. And in his own words, nativist impulses can hold back technocratic prescriptions. So I would separate out coloring their ideas with the political waters in which those ideas need to exist. For example, how they would talk about India's economy and the interventions that need to be made for further reforms, for reforms to the bureaucracy, for reforms to particular legislation, as it pertains to whether it's licensing or privatization or what have you, those ideas are key and we should understand them. But as in my book, and as I would say to you, they then have to jive with particular power structures. And man Manmohan Singh functioned in a very different kind of government under very different political pressures and with very different kind of windows to Institute his ideas than did Arvind Subramanian.
Your second question about India's technocracy over the last 20 years and its involvement in the bureaucracy. Look, I think the one thing that is a real puzzle about the Indian state is that it can perform so brilliantly at managing such large programs. Let's just think about the Aadhaar program, which requires pretty sophisticated design, the involvement of a pretty novel population size and implementation challenges that come with that. And then you can align that with the state performing very poorly in the last 10, 20 years on every day policing or energy issues, what have you. I think the bureaucracy in and of itself in terms of its ideas and talent is not necessarily the issue, but it's about capacity and the political waters in which they swim and the leash they are given to be able to execute.
And Ex-ante having more technocrats who can be part of the bureaucracy and come with better fresh ideas is a net positive. But really, it's about the size of that bureaucracy and the political freedom that it's given to implement, I would argue is more important. Another example being just the number of vacancies that you look at in different parts of the Indian bureaucracy, whether that's in the diplomatic ore or courts or different policing institutions in different states. On the one hand, we talk about patronage in India and on the other, there are significant holes in bureaucratic institutions. That is not necessarily a function of a lack of talent and technocrats and ideas. That's a function of political prioritization and execution. I hope that answers your question.
Yes. Thank you. Thank thanks for your answer.
Nafis Aziz Hasan:
Thanks. Tariq, would you like to ask a question?
Sure. Thanks, Bilal, so much for that talk and I look forward to reading the book. My copy is ordered, but it's at my office and I'm still working from home. So I haven't had a chance to go through the book in detail. But one of the questions I had was in part, what I read your narrative as trying to do, and I'm broadly very sympathetic and agree with the point of the weight of elite ideas, even though a lot of my own work has been focused on more materialist dimensions of politics, as you know. But one of the questions I had is the kind of unbundling of those. The narrative I heard you present in some ways, for both cases was that there were a series of factors that precipitated this credibility crisis.
And that moment is where you really lock into seeing how do ideas matter during that credibility crisis. How do they govern elite decision making during a period of uncertainty produced by that kind of crisis? And I wonder if in some ways like posing both the JP movement and even India Against Corruption as these anti-corruption movements, like almost at parallel that you're drawing, which in some ways is really interesting. But I wonder if in some ways it obscures almost an ideational through line that is actually saying that the same ideas matter, not just in the handling of the credibility crisis, but and even the material conditions that produce the crisis? If you think about the ideas that Indira Gandhi comes to power with, many of them, it's not just the corruption that precipitates JP movement, but it's the longer trend of a centralization of power that creates all these odd bed fellows who are willing to come together.
And there may be some proximate causes, but there are these longer causes as well. And similarly with India Against Corruption, that in some ways is more neatly defined, but a lot of the actual corruption, the scams, the UPA 2 scams were affiliated with the kind of corruption that was feasible in a particular economic order. Right? The corruption looked different when it was about a post liberalization, like where the margins were for corruption were often around sales or around transfers, even if we think of whether in telecom or land.
And so in some ways it's not saying ideas don't matter, but it's saying that a lot of those ideas mattered even before. I felt like there was a disjuncture a little bit in the argument, but are you really wedded to that or do you see it more as a through-line and maybe that's coming through in the book more? I just-
No. I think you're absolutely right. And that's why I don't treat the anti-corruption movements in isolation. I think those same ideas that... Let's talk about the UPA 2, for example. The same ideas that precipitate the conditions for the movement to emerge, keeping the scandals aside for a second, are born out of that same ideational divergence within the UPA 2 government. I call it a concurrent Polanyi movement because at one, at the same time, there was a focus on markets, but also ensuring that the state was strong. And theoretically, that is something that on the political street in India, as you know better than I do, there is that dominant view that these two things can be done at the same time. But they can be done at the same time under certain economic conditions.
And with pressure and with the kind of corruption that ended up ensuing in that government, things began to fray. So my argument is not that those ideas are not there prior to that movement. And I think, like you said, there is a thread, it's that those ideas become the only way at an individual level to be able to diagnose the crisis. Whereas some of these policies emerged from consensus, let's think about an NREGA. It is not the case that some of these leaders in the government who prescribed to a more liberal economic framework were gung ho on NREGA, but they saw that as a bargaining chip to be able to focus on other areas that they wanted to look at.
For example, if we're going to push through NREGA, then we need to make sure that we get PPPs saliently in them at the local level in order to make sure that they are executed and function well. Both sides come to an agreement, they institute the policy. The time constraints and the pressures in a crisis environment. My argument is that those ideas still hold strong, but they don't bring about consensus. And that's where the balancing comes in. Now, you contrast that with Mrs. Gandhi's government, and you're absolutely right. The ideas dominant in her government that led to a certain populous programs ended up being one of the causal variables and why these movements came to prominence.
But if it was the case that she was a pure political or pure power player, there would've been more evidence of her trying to circumvent and/or crush the movement in other ways earlier and sooner. But that she was locked into this ideological vector based on her populism. And it only really kicked into gear when the RSS joined the JP movement, is then a matter of divergence between scholars that will say based on my epistemology, that look, the ideas clearly locked her into a certain type of behavior. Versus scholars of another epistemology, maybe a different, more materialist one, they'll say, no, this is pure power preservation. Which I don't discount, but the sequencing would've been quite different.
And certainly, we saw later that announcing elections again, there's clearly more to her and her advisors' thinking than pure, just power capture.
Nafis Aziz Hasan:
Right. Thank you so much. We've come to the top of the hour. Thank you so much, Bilal, for this wonderful talk. And I'm sure a lot of people want to read your book. Thank you, audience for being here. This was our first talk and we look forward to you coming again. Please, get onto the CASI website to register for the talks, which happen every Thursday. See you next week. Bye.
Thank you everyone.