Comparative Notes on Indian Experiences of Social Democracy: Kerala and West Bengal (SWP 39)

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Harriss, John and Olle Törnquist, Comparative Notes on Indian Experiences of Social Democracy: Kerala and West Bengal, Simons Papers in Security and Development, No. 39/2015, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, January 2015.


Date created: 
ISSN 1922-5725
social democracy
social justice
state-society relations
West Bengal

This is a draft chapter for a book that compares, in historical perspective, the conditions for democracy, economic development and well-being in India and Scandinavia. Within India, we compare the states of Kerala and West Bengal. Though Kerala has been described as the ‘Scandinavia of India’ for its public actions in favour of citizen rights, land reform, welfare policies and most recently decentralisation, the Left there has not been successful in also fostering interest representation beyond the dominance of parties or building a growth coalition so as to combine economic growth and social justice. The Left has failed to reconcile – through practice, policy or social institutions – the interests of dynamic business, precarious middle classes and underprivileged labour. Kerala’s development has been dominated since the 1990s by the dynamics of globalization, economic liberalism and labour migration, and the full potential of high education levels has remained untapped. Achievements with regard to social justice are more the outcome of broad mobilisations in society than of leftist policies. In West Bengal, after initial improvements in rights and well-being brought by agrarian reform, the Left’s continued reliance on patronage networks and more recently, policies that favoured big companies and external investment, led to stagnation and electoral defeat.

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