Compulsion and Social Change: Is Authoritarianism the Solution to India's Economic Development Problems?

  • Frankel F
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The view of critics like Myrdal that a solution to problems of mass poverty requires sweeping changes in established cultural attitudes and institutions which cannot be carried out through democratic methods remains influential in India among intellectuals and radical political parties. Yet, a frontal assault on the existing social order would delay or abort basic economic reforms by fragmenting large numbers of the poorer classes along more potent allegiances to religion, language, and caste. An alternative solution can be devised based on the distinction between direct and indirect obstacles to economic development which are part of the social setting. Direct constraints are found in patterns of land ownership and land tenure. By contrast, the cultural attitudes, caste structures, and power relations are indirect obstacles in the sense that they strengthen ideological and political patterns that stand in the way of agrarian reform. Under Indian conditions democratic rather than authoritarian institutions offer the best prospect over the long term for carrying out basic economic changes. They strengthen egalitarian values and provide an opportunity for direct organization of the more numerous lower castes to weaken both the legitimacy and power of the dominant landed castes--without risking the social disorder of a direct confrontation.

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  • Francine R Frankel

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