BASS Social Anthropology and Philosophy / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI32192
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


In this course, we will seek to understand how India’s experiences inform, and revise, major theories of comparative politics that explain the outcomes (also known as dependent variables) of democratic consolidation, economic development and conflict. We will examine explanations for variation in the outcome, considering why political scientists argue that some countries are democracies, while others are not; why some countries are poor, while others are rich; and why some countries experience high levels of violence, while others are peaceful. We will seek to understand how the experience of India comports with standard theories that explain the outcome considered, and discuss how standard theories might be revised in light of the Indian case. We will map subnational variation—across regions, and over time—in the outcome being considered, and try to explain it. In some weeks, we will also look at the role of the individual, be it their gender or ethnicity, in shaping the political outcome being considered. Students will learn about India’s politics in a structured manner, and will be exposed to a range of comparative research designs in order to tease out the key explanatory mechanisms.


  • To introduce students to the case study of India in comparative perspective.
  • To offer a critical overview of a range of approaches to understanding the internal politics of India.
  • To offer students the opportunity to assess critically how India developed its nation-state after independence.
  • To enable students with lessons from the Indian case for comparative studies of democracy, development and conflict.

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught on the basis of ten two-hour lectures and ten one-hour seminars. Students will be expected to read key texts in advance of seminars to enable direct engagement with the texts and broader informed discussion. The seminars will comprise a mix of question-and-answer sessions and small group work.


Knowledge and understanding

  • The trajectory of India after independence
  • The challenges of state and nation building in India
  • The different democratic outcomes at the subnational level
  • The tensions caused and eased by the religious, linguistic and caste diversity in the country.

Intellectual skills

  • Synthesis of information, evaluation of competing explanations, applying theory to policy, formulation of one’s own reasoned argument
  • Research on primary and secondary literature

Practical skills

  • Research skills
  • Capacity to carry out independent and team work
  • Capacity to produce written work and to give effective oral presentations
  • Basic quantitative analysis using Excel

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Read primary and secondary sources on a regular basis
  • Capacity to analyse critically in writing
  • Capacity to respect deadlines
  • Capacity to present work with notes
  • Basic use of Excel

Assessment methods

Essay 1 (40%): 1800 words

Essay 2 (60%): 2700 words

Recommended reading


Banerjee, Abhijit, and Lakshmi Iyer (2005) "History, Institutions and Economic Performance: The Legacy of Colonial Land Tenure Systems in India." American Economic Review 95 (4), pp. 1190-1213.


Brulè, Rachel and Nikhar Gaikwad (2021) "Culture, Capital and the Political Economy Gender Gap: Evidence from Meghalaya’s Matrilineal Tribes.” Journal of Politics, 83 (3), pp. 834-849.


Chandra, Kanchan (2004) Why ethnic parties succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Head Counts in India. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. Chapter 1.


Chattopadhyay, Raghabendra and Esther Duflo. (2004) "Women as Policy Makers” Econometrica, 72 (5), pp. 1409-43.


Chhibber, Pradeep and Rahul Verma (2017). “The BJP’s 2014 resurgence”. In: Electoral Politics in India: The Resurgence of the Bharatiya Janata Party. (ed) Suhas Palshikar, Sanjay Kumar and Sanjay Lodha. London: Routledge, pp. 15–33.


Corbridge, Stuart and Harriss, John (2000), Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy. Polity Press. London. Chapter 6, 'Elite Revolts': Reforming and reinventing India in the 1990s.


Heath, Oliver (2005) "Party systems, Political Cleavages, and Electoral Volatility in India: A State-Wise Analysis, 1998-99", Electoral Studies, 24 (2), 177-199.


Jalal, Ayesha (2009) Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. Introduction (Chapter 1)


Jeffrey, Witsoe (2016) “The Politics of Caste and the Deepening of India’s Democracy: The Case of the Backward Caste Movement in Bihar." in Social Movements and the State in India (ed). Kenneth Bo Nielsen and Alf Gunvald Nilsen. Palgrave MacMillan: London.


Jensenius, Francesca R (2015). “Mired in reservations: The path-dependent history of electoral quotas in India”. The Journal of Asian Studies, 74 (1), pp. 85–105.


Keefer, P and Khemani (2009) “When do legislators pass on pork” American Political Science Review, 103 (1): pp. 99-112.


Kothari, Rajni (1964). "The Congress 'System' in India", Asian Survey, 12.4, pp. 1161-1173.


Mitra, Subrata Kumar (1992). “Democ

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Dishil Shrimankar Unit coordinator

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