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The Gentle Leviathan

Categories: NatureResearch

Welfare and the Indian State focuses on the central claim that the Indian state has practiced an interventionist form of governance. Interventionist forms of governments intervene in social, political, and economic spheres of the nation with the agenda of development but not necessarily welfare. The Janani Suraksha Yojana (Janani Suraksha Yojana, n.d.) , is a case in point.

It came about as a response to the low maternal health and maternal mortality rates of women in India and provides free health care and financial assistance to women from poor households to encourage them to have institutional deliveries.

This form of approach is an intervention to ensure the health statistics of women in the country improve but does not see it as a right of all women to have free and safe health care. Thus, this form of governance, Jayal argues, focuses on welfare functions that arise from a need based approach. She backs this claim by focusing on India’s socio-political and historical climate.

Her central claim is that India’s shift from an interventionist state to a welfare state will be shaped by the political climate of the nation and more often than not will be shaped by the politics of the marginalised population.

An assumption that stands out in her argument and thus structures her essay is that the Indian state, post-independence, focuses on an interventionist approach because India could afford not afford to provide basic needs for it’s population, thus needed to follow a model that focused on growth along with equity.

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This assumption shapes how she further argues that due to it’s historical past of following intervention as a form of justice and not welfare, the state never actually challenged power structures rather limited itself to hand-outs. Furthering Jayal’s argument, the interventionist form of government to-date sees welfare rights (such as access to health, education, shelter) as benevolence of the state and not intrinsically connected to ensuring individual freedom and rights.

The Forest Rights Act (FRA), for instance is still controlled by the state and only once the State departments approve of enacting the FRA in a particular region do the people of the region gain rights over the land. It fails to dismantle the historical process by which people lost rights over their land. Neerja Jayal’s essay though seems to me, as not filling the gaping hole of how power and politics seem to also ensure that such a historical upheaval of hierarchy does not take place as the state, till date, continues to privilege the non-marginalised population.

Jayal’s narrative of highlighting the difference between the western conception of the welfare state and India’s conception of it provides clarity in how and to what effect a welfare state in both these regions needs to be understood differently to bring about a more equitable form of governance.

The question that the paper throws up is whether a welfare state can ever be brought into India, as it seems, that such a state gives equal rights to everybody without focusing on identity politics and history. Jayal herself talks about how the welfare agendas are also the agendas of marginalised population, in such a situation even though politically the welfare state may not fragment the population on paper, socially it would continue to play the part that the interventionist state plays.

For example, the Right to Education Act ensures that all students are given free education till eight grade and students can join any private or public institution to study but such a law fails to look at the gender, caste, and disability as barriers in accessing these institutions. The welfare state seems to see the people as homogenous, all deserving the same right because everyone should be treated equally but fails focus on individual and collective histories.

In support, Peter Evans’ article State and Industrial Transformation goes forward to show how the state, especially one that caters to the collective goal of development, is vital. Evans focuses on the state as a facilitator of development through the idea of embedded autonomy.

The assumption that Evans makes is that there is an international division of labour that is based on capabilities of states and that these capabilities define how the nation will sustain itself and whether or not it will manage to ensure a multidimensional conspiracy, which basically means that there is positive spill-overs from the labour that the country provides.

This argument seems majorly flawed as the capabilities of a nation don’t solely decide their place in the global scene. This is also highly motivated by power and almost always, the nations that belong to the lower wrung of this labour hierarchy are the third world countries.

He uses this approach to analyse three nations: India, Brazil, and Korea and the emergence of the IT sector and how they have or have not sustained themselves. While Evans makes important claims of seeing the state as having agency, he fails to see that this agency is also limited within the field of global politics and the coming in of Industrial transformation has been largely influenced by the global narrative of the 1970s and 1980s (which is the time period he focuses on for these nation)

Evans though provides a base for one to see how the state has been, through it’s interventionist policies, a propagator of development, and not a hinderance to it especially owing to it’s embedded autonomy.

Jayal and Evans both seem to agree that the State is vital in the role of development and governance and both highlight the dual role that the state plays. For Jayal the State is seen as a sight to demand welfare rights, she also acknowledges the hostile view that those demanding for rights have of the state. Evans also sees the state as playing a dual role, that while the industrial transformation advocates lesser state involvement, it at the same time requires, the state to ensure that there is continuous support from the state for this economic structure.

The difference is that, Jayal and Evans seem to take two different approaches in understanding the state. Jayal looks at the state as one which is largely shaped by it’s historic and socio-political climate, thus bound by this narrative whereas Evans acknowledges the historic and socio-political climate but gives the state more agency in making decisions and not being merely bound by history and global politics.

Evans’ idea of embedded autonomy, which claims that the state is intrinsically linked to society but has a degree of autonomy in making decisions fills the gap that Jayal seems to leave in her essay. Jayal does not explain why any change from an interventionist government would come that would challenge social hierarchy, ever but Evans, through conceptualizing embedded autonomy looks at the state as constantly revaluating policies and decisions to ensure that the social ties that it has with the society are maintained.

While Evans does focus on the idea of embedded autonomy to explain governance, I am sceptical of the agency it gives the government. He claims that they are not pawns of historical outcomes always, but as shown in Jayal’s article that is a large reason for why they also don’t directly challenge power structures within society. Both articles provide an important base to interrogate the form of governance that the state follows, and especially highlight that it is a multitude of factors that lead to the states vital role in development.

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The Gentle Leviathan. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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