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The Art of Governing Well: Freedom and the Practice of Government in Modern India

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posted on 01.05.2020, 00:00 by Aviral Pathak
This dissertation studies political development and transformation in modern India. It stresses the impact of Indian political thought in shaping governmental practice since the 1940s. The theoretical emphasis is placed on freedom and, in particular, how Indians have thought themselves as free and in how this thought has inspired practices of government in a range of sectors including the family, and the private and public sectors. Two important moments in Indian political thinking around freedom since the mid-twentieth century are identified and elaborated. Between the 1940s and 1960s, the theory of freedom was framed in a juridico-political register where the rights of the newly independent Indian subject both defined the individual’s freedom and the parameters of governmental practice. Through their juridically secured rights, the Indian subject-citizen was at once made free and obliged to a nation-building project. And government governed well when it respected the rights of each and all as it pursued the urgent task of forming a composite nation. By the 1970s, this theory of freedom is critiqued and gives way to a theory framed in a more politico-economic register where the utility-maximizing choices of free individuals both define their freedom and governmental practice. The new Indian subject of choice is thought of as responsible for securing their personally defined future rather than a future nation. Accordingly, the nation-building project is largely estranged from governmental discourse. Now government governs well when it maximizes the choices of free individuals. This shift from a rights-based to a choice-based theory of freedom is detailed in the family and the problem of governing youth, in the private sector and the rise of market research, and in the public sector and the challenges of urban planning. Child psychologists, market researchers, and urban planners not only revise how they think and know the individual as free, they also recommend governmental practice adjust to better align with the interests of Indians as free choosers. Moreover, these changes in governmental thought and practice also speak to and resonate with traditional class, gender, and social relations in India.



Engelmann, Stephen


Engelmann, Stephen


Political Science

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Moruzzi, Norma Pallares, Amalia Mantena, Rama Liechty, Mark

Submitted date

May 2020

Thesis type