India’s New Ruling Caste

CAMBRIDGE – The largest election in history, involving more than 700 million voters, has resulted in the victory of India’s ruling alliance, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Indian National Congress. The verdict disproved gloomy predictions of a hung parliament and the further strengthening of regional parties. The new government will be far more stable than many of its predecessors, so the election results have elicited profound relief.

But the fact remains that, like previous governments, the new administration will consist mostly of politicians unfit to hold ministerial office. While several provincial satraps have been cut down to size, new, aspiring ones have garnered significant support. Despite the manifest success of Indian democracy, its parliamentary system is not succeeding in giving India good governance.

Obviously, India is not a failed state. Lant Pritchett of the Harvard Kennedy School has coined a new name for India: a “flailing state” – a state where the government’s extremely competent upper echelons are unable to control its inefficient lower levels, resulting in poor performance.

But this analysis gives credit where none is due: India’s problem is its top political leadership’s lack of competence. The inability of India’s current political system to provide effective government places the country in a different category: a non-performing state.