Developing State Capacity in a Weak State

Guest blog written by Dr Himanshu Jha

Dr Himanshu Jha is a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Department of Political Science, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University.

What engenders state capacity in a weak state?  How do weak states develop state capacity? And Under what conditions do policy paradigms succeed in historically weak states? In this blog I discuss a case of weak state developing state capacity – an aspect hitherto ignored in the mainstream literature. The state capacity lies in its ability to use its extractive potential to mobilize resources, formulate and implement policy, effectively distribute goods and services and establish control within its territory. States lacking in these capacities are considered weak with poor socio-economic development and service delivery. However, there are cases where even such weak states may selectively display remarkable state capacity albeit in pockets. Such a state poses a puzzle and becomes a tough case for explaining state capacity. 

The sub-national case of eastern Indian state of Bihar presents us with such a puzzle[1]. Bihar has historically been a weak state on all the above counts and yet the state has demonstrated a remarkable state capacity in selected policy domains. Oddly, in this case the state did not develop state capacity comprehensively, but selectively in pockets. Deeper analysis of these successful cases will enable us to isolate conditions under which a weak state develops state capacity in some areas.  

Here, I will discuss just one such case of infrastructure where striking improvements have taken place since 2005 coinciding with a new political party forming government in the state. However, the new political regime inherited a socially, economically and administratively weak state. Astoundingly, in a matter of few years the state witnessed a turnaround in some selected policy domains. Indeed, the state capacity could not have developed so swiftly. Therefore, the change in political regime alone cannot explain the improved state capacity (contrary to what some have argued).

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