Amartya Sen: A More Human Theory of Development

(Elya/Wikipedia)
(Elya/Wikipedia)

NEW YORK, Dec 6, 2004 - Amartya Sen was born in 1933 in Santiniketan, India. His early education was deeply influenced by his school's founder, Rabindranath Tagore. In 1998, Professor Sen became the first Indian and the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Economics; he was praised by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences "for his contributions to welfare economics" and for restoring "an ethical dimension" to the discussion of vital economic problems.

Professor Sen has taught at a number of universities worldwide and is presently Lamont University Professor at Harvard. His publications include Development as Freedom (Oxford UP, 1999); On Ethics and Economics (Basil Blackwell, 1987); and Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlements and Deprivation (Clarendon Press, 1982). Among his forthcoming books are Identity and the Violence of Illusion and The Argumentative Indian.

Interview conducted by AsiaSociety.org's Nermeen Shaikh.

 

Some critics have suggested that development as it has been pursued in the last fifty years was poorly conceived and narrowly defined. What biases in the development agenda were you trying to address and why?

The idea of development is a complex one: it is not surprising that people think that the way development is defined could be improved. When the subject began in the 1940s it was primarily driven by the progress in economic growth theory that had occurred through the preceding period in the 1930s as well the 1940s. It was dominated by the basic vision that poor countries are just low-income countries, and the focus was simply on transcending the problems of underdevelopment through economic growth, increasing GNP and so on. That proved to be a not very good way of thinking about development, which has to be concerned with advancing human well-being and human freedom. Income is one of the factors that contributes to welfare and freedom, but not the only factor. The process of economic growth is a rather poor basis for judging the progress of a country; it is not, of course, irrelevant but it is only one factor among many.

It is interesting to remember that if we go back a long time, the development agenda, right from the beginning, had a concern with human life, going well back to Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and others. But all this had to be reasserted in the contemporary development literature. This is an issue in which I have felt quite involved. I should explain that I am not primarily a development economist. I should not pretend to be one! (Even though I feel flattered when I read that I got the Nobel for contributions to development economics, it was in fact awarded for work on "welfare economics" and "social choice theory".) But insofar as I have been involved in development, I have been concerned quite a bit with the nature of development and the causal mechanisms that contribute to it.

The Human Development Report, published annually by the UNDP since 1990, draws substantially on your work on capabilities. Could you explain the importance of this approach and its policy implications?

Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it. That is, I think, the basic focus of the human development approach. It was pioneered by Mahbub ul-Haq and the first report came out in 1990. Mahbub started working on this in the summer of 1989. I remember his ringing me in Finland where I was living at the time. Mahbub, of course, was an extremely close friend: we were students together, we maintained close contact until his untimely death, and I always enjoyed talking and arguing with him, which we did throughout our friendship.

Regarding your question, I would say it is not quite correct to say that the Human Development Report draws on my ideas in particular; it draws on the ideas of a lot of us and Mahbub himself was a great pioneer of this. We could see the expressions of frustration Mahbub had in his early work. For example, in his 1963 book on Pakistan, The Strategy of Economic Planning, he mentions that if India and Pakistan were to grow at what were then thought to be the most rapid rates experienced in the world, then in about 25 years or so, India or Pakistan would be where Egypt was at that time. Mahbub was, obviously, not anti-Egyptian in any sense! But he was arguing that it is just not good enough for India and Pakistan, after 25 years of maximum growth, only to get where Egypt already was. This basic concern can be seen as the beginning of human development thought, and it had much to do with the way Mahbub's mind was working already in 1963.

He was arguing that we should be able to make human life much richer by going directly at the determining factors that influence the quality of our lives. However, in his professional life in Pakistan, Mahbub got involved, first, with administration, and then for a while, with politics, as Pakistan's finance minister, and in between he was advising and working with the World Bank. So he was not master of his own time in the way I was, being an academic. So I had more opportunity to work freely to pursue the ideas that he and I shared. Mahbub was very interested indeed when I delivered my first Tanner Lecture in 1979 called "Equality of what?" at Stanford (I gave two other Tanner Lectures on a related theme at Cambridge University in 1985). The 1979 essay was really my first serious writing on what is now called "the capabilities approach." I remember seeing Mahbub not long after that in Geneva and we had a long conversation about it. Then my book, Commodities and Capabilities, came out in 1985, and a further study, called The Standard of Living, came out in 1987, based on my 1985 Cambridge lectures. I was getting more and more involved in all this, and Mahbub was cheering me on.

When he called me in 1989, he told me that I was too much into pure theory and I should drop all that now ("enough is enough"), and that he and I should work together on something with actual measurement, actual numbers, and try to make an impact on the world. He was very "driven" (as always!). He displayed the same kind of vigor I recollected he had in our undergraduate days together, a vigor which had been somewhat restrained by his official positions in the Bank and in the Government of Pakistan. I remember asking his wife - Khadija (or Bani to us, her friends) - whether I was right in thinking that Mahbub was back to his old high spirits, and she confirmed that he was. Absolutely.

Next: "Institutions, like all of us individually, also go through a learning process."

To what extent do you believe that the institutions entrusted with development—the World Bank and the IMF foremost among them—have been equal to the task? In other words, do you think that the structural conditions exist for the realization of human equality, capabilities, and freedom as you envision them?

There are three things here that I should try to make clear. One, there were some policies emanating from the Bank and from the Fund which were clearly not, at least in my judgement, ideally suited for the advancement of an agenda of human development. If one is looking for a record of impeccable correctness—or even being "roughly correct"—throughout, I do not think I am able to put the Bank and Fund in that category.

The second point to note is that institutions, like all of us individually, also go through a learning process, and the Bank and the Fund did too. Sometimes one's learning is at one's own expense (like going to a costly private school), but in contrast, the Bank and the Fund had a very expensive education the costs of which were borne mostly by others, through unnecessary or misdirected economic hardship.

To look at things more positively, a lot has indeed been learned. Also there have been changes in the leadership of these institutions. Under the direction of James Wolfensohn, the Bank has certainly taken a much more pro-human development approach. Indeed what was unthinkable many years ago has occurred with little fuss in the Bank, to wit, having a whole section dedicated to "human development." That quiet organizational change also reflects a shift in the Bank philosophy, bringing poverty removal to the centre of the stage.

There are, of course, changes in the Fund too. Camdessus and Stanley Fisher took considerable interest in what we call human development, compared with what was the case earlier, even though the nature of the Fund's work, which is more financial and less oriented to long-run development, made the exercise rather different there. In any case, the change in the Fund has not been as big as in the Bank under Wolfensohn's leadership.

The third point to make is that the Bank and Fund governing structures—fixed by its rules and protocol—are very unequal in terms of the influence of different perspectives. It reflects not only the fact that these are financial institutions, not primarily political ones, as the United Nations is. But there is something more than that in the systematic asymmetries of power of the different countries in the governance of the Bank and the Fund. The entire UN family, including the United Nations itself, came into being in the 1940s in a world that was very different. The Bank and the Fund emerged from the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944. This was a world where more than half the countries of the world were not self-governing. This was before the independence of India and many other countries in Asia and Africa. China was independent but it was just emerging from Western dominance for a very long period, followed by Japanese conquest later. And Germany, Japan and Italy were the defeated—or about to be defeated—nations, with little say on world governance.

It was a very different world. There was not a single democratic poor country in the world. In addition, the understanding of such things as human rights was very limited. The United Nations itself played a big part in producing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a few years after Bretton Woods, but that entire approach was in its infancy.

Today there are NGOs which are very powerful in the world, which was not the case then at all. OXFAM was founded in 1942, but it was a small relief organization then, with little voice in world affairs. That has changed over the years, and I know—having been Honorary President of OXFAM for some years—how strong the commitment of this wonderful organization is to making the voices of the poor and the underprivileged heard. There are other organizations like that today, fighting for the underdogs of society, through work but also through advocacy, such as Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, Actionaid, and so on, but in the world of the mid-1940s, they either did not exist, or had a very limited role. CARE did exist just around that time (I remember teaching in makeshift night schools in neighbouring villages in Bengal, when I was completing my own school education, using erstwhile food boxes of CARE as tables, chairs as well as blackboard stand!), but CARE was mainly a relief organization, primarily distributing food. The idea that NGOs could be vocal and influential participants in development dialogues is a much more recent one.

So in that context, the world that emerged had a tremendous concentration of power in the hands of what we may call the "establishment countries." For example, the President of the World Bank is always an American, while the President of the Fund can be an American or a European, but he or she is not going to be a Pakistani or an Ethiopian (irrespective of personal qualifications). The inequalities in the governing structure need to be re-examined, but it is unlikely that this will happen any time soon.

The United Nations itself faces a similar problem (particularly with asymmetries in the Security Council), and being a more political organization, it has undertaken attempts at re-examination (so far without much effect). I do not believe the Bank and the Fund have really considered any major reform of governing arrangements, and given the fact that these are financial institutions, they probably will not. A pity, that, but also a reasonable subject for more global public discussion.

Next: "The World Bank had not been my favorite organization."

Some of the chapters in your highly acclaimed Development as Freedom book were delivered as lectures to World Bank staff at the behest of James Wolfensohn. Do you believe that your collaboration with him led to substantive change in Bank practice?

I cannot really claim that my lecturing the Bank has had any particular impact. But Jim Wolfensohn has introduced many new ideas and practices in the Bank which reflect his own thinking. I am very happy that his ideas have much similarity with my way of thinking, but he arrived at them on his own.

The World Bank had not been my favorite organization. I would not have liked to have been involved very much in the Bank without some basic change in the Bank's attitude to a number of these questions. This did occur with Jim Wolfensohn's arrival. He is also an old friend and we had worked together as Trustees of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was then, and he still is, the chairman of its Board. I was a member of the Board, and we worked there together. I developed a tremendous admiration for Jim for the way he ran the Board. I was delighted when he became the President of the Bank.

When he asked me to give these lectures at the Bank, on any subject of my choice, I thought immediately that this was something I would like to do. And it was a good experience, with lots of useful comments on my lectures which I could use in finalizing the book, Development as Freedom. And it was good to have tried out the book on a large but critical and knowledgeable audience.

In an article in the Guardian (UK) entitled "Freedom's Market" you suggested that, "The real debate associated with globalization is, ultimately, not about the efficiency of markets, nor about the importance of modern technology. The debate, rather, is about inequality of power." Do you believe that this rather dramatic inequality in power within and between states can be altered without equally dramatic structural change?

This is a difficult issue. Let me say three things. One is that the inequalities are monumental in the world today both in economic affluence and in political power. Any kind of analysis of globalization has to be alive to that fact. Now I do believe that greater global contact has been a very strong force for good not just today but over thousands of years. The history of the global contact is sometimes underestimated by thinking of it primarily as a recent phenomenon, and in terms of influences going only from the West to the East, or from North to South. But historically the process of influence has not been unidirectional. Look, for example, at 1000 AD, at the beginning of the millennium which finished just four years ago. In the fields of science and technology, there were a great many things known then in China which were not known in Europe. Similarly, Indian, Arab, and Iranian mathematicians knew a great deal about mathematics which the Europeans had no clue of, including the decimal system and a number of departures in trigonometry, and other approaches. These moved through globalization from East to West, just as science and technology easily move today from West to East. Europe would have been as silly to turn down wisdom coming from the East as the East would be today to turn down wisdom coming from the West. So despite the inequality of power, my first point is that you have to really see the positive contribution that a global movement of ideas—of knowledge and understanding—makes.

The second point is that economic globalization itself could be a source of major advancement of living conditions, and it often is. The main difficulty is that the circumstances in which it produces the maximum benefits for poorer people do not exist now. This is not however an argument for being against global economic contact but rather an argument for working towards a better division of benefits from global economic contact.

Next: "Silence is a powerful enemy of social justice."

It is not, by and large, the case that as a result of globalization the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, which is the rhetoric that is often used, and which I believe is mistaken. It may have happened in a few countries, but by and large, this is not the case. The relative success or failure of globalization should not be measured by whether the poor are getting a little richer; the question is: could they have become a lot richer by the same process if the governing circumstances were different? And the answer is yes. This requires both national, local policies like advancing educational arrangements, particularly school education, advancing basic health care, advancing gender equity, undertaking land reforms. It can also be helped by a more favourable global trade situation and more equitable economic arrangements, for example better access to the markets in the richer countries, which would help the poorer countries to benefit more from global economic contact. For that, patent laws have to be re-examined, arrangements have to be made whereby the richer countries are welcoming to commodities coming from poorer countries, and so on. Globalization can become more equitable and effective through these changes. So the issue is not whether economic globalization is ruining people. It may not be doing that, and yet it can actually benefit people much more—and this is the central issue—than it is doing now.

The third point is that the market economy is just one institution among many. Even though there is no such thing today as global democracy, one can still have an impact on these questions by speaking out and having your voice heard: the practice of any kind of democracy is primarily about public reasoning. If, for example, the Bank and the Fund have changed, they have in part been responding to plentiful criticisms that have come from different parts of the world. So one should not think of global democracy just as institutional global government. It is also the fostering of public reasoning—critical public reasoning. Happily, under Kofi Annan's leadership, the UN has often been able to be a vehicle for the expression of certain types of critiques which otherwise might not have received that attention. Newspapers, the media in general, play that part. The expansion of information technology, most notably the Internet, as well as the availability of news across the world—CNN or BBC or whatever—all these make a contribution to what I would call "global speech" and through that help to advance the pursuit of global democracy.

In order to make the division of benefits from globalization more favorable, there is something we can all do: we can pay attention to it, speak about it, and holler about it. That is a very important thing to do right now. Silence is a powerful enemy of social justice.

Martha Nussbaum has elaborated on your work and expanded the list of universal human capabilities to include issues such as being able to express "justified anger" and having "opportunities for sexual satisfaction." Do you believe there are limits to such an approach? In other words, is this not too subjective a conception of an allegedly objective way of measuring universal human well-being?

This is a difficult but excellent question. In terms of what we desire and what we regard to be important in our lives, our thinking must enter into that evaluation; to look for something which would be untouched by the human mind would be a mistake. On the other hand, the fact that it emanates from our thinking process does not indicate that the process itself would lack objectivity. Objectivity in matters of valuation and judgment demands open and unrestrained critique—it demands public reasoning and challenging discussion. If there is one thing that we have learned from the progress in political philosophy over the last half a century—to a great extent led by John Rawls—it is that objectivity in ethics and in political philosophy is basically linked to the need to subject beliefs and proposals to the scrutiny of public debates and discussions. What priority - if any - to give to any capability, like expressing justified anger, must depend on the valuations that emerge from critical assessment. Given everything else, if we could express "justified anger" that others too see as reasonable (this is the central exercise in the search for "truth and reconciliation" in contemporary South African politics), it would obviously be a good exercise of a significant capability. Similarly, if there are opportunities for sexual satisfaction involving consenting adults, there should be no particular reason to object to it. Difficulties arise only when one good thing conflicts with another. Then it is a question of relative evaluation, and that is where the discipline of public scrutiny of contentious matters comes in.

When, at a point of particular repression in British India, Mahatma Gandhi was asked by a journalist in London what he thought of British civilization, Gandhi had replied, "It would be a good idea." That certainly was a quiet expression of critical anger (even if expressed rather gently), but objective public assessment could yield the conclusion that this anger was indeed justified (most people even in Britain today would accept that). It would have been a serious loss of freedom for Gandhi if the liberty to express such anger, under considerable provocation, were to be denied.

Martha Nussbaum has been a major contributor to the literature on capabilities. She has made the whole field much more vibrant as well as accessible. She has also created the context in which this field is taken seriously into account not by economists alone, but philosophers as well, and social scientists generally. We do, of course, have some differences on how the capability approach is to be used. Martha is more inclined to get use out of an agreed list of capabilities, whereas my leaning has been towards taking the relevant lists to be contingent on public discussion, and variable with context and circumstances. It is not a big difference, and I do see clearly the advantage of working with a pre-eminent list of capabilities (as Martha does) for many exercises, such as the assertion of human rights of the most basic kind.

On the other side, we come to learn the importance of some capabilities through intense public discussion. We learn certain things over time which we may not have known earlier - public discussion may bring this about. Just to give an example from the field of gender equity (since the issue of gender often comes up in this context), consider the understanding that women being induced to stick to their traditional role in the family may itself involve an oppression, even though they have accepted that role with little protest over thousands of years. This recognition is a new learning which has emanated to a great extent from the work of feminists and from public discussions based on new scrutiny. Similarly the idea that neglecting women's identity in language (referring to everyone as a man) is not just a rhetorical problem, but is a part of a real deprivation of freedom, is again a new understanding. Now if one were listing the parameters of women's freedoms in the 1940s, I do not think these would have emerged as factors of great importance, because people did not fully understand the reach of these freedoms. We are always learning, and that is one of the reasons why public reasoning is so important.

Next: "it is extraordinarily important to fight for reason."

Circumstances are also changing. Say for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh today: people's ability to communicate with each other through e-mail or the Internet is a new development. Being able to communicate with each other has now become possible with the new electronic media and it is important in terms of economic, social, and political relations. Again in the 1940s' list, this would not have figured because the capability in question was not easy to imagine then.

So we have to treat the list of capabilities as something which is not final and fixed, but which is contextual and dependent on the nature of the exercise and also on the extent of our understanding, based on public discussion. The Human Development Index of the United Nations uses capabilities in a very minimal form but it has its value still, in its particular context. Martha Nussbaum too has made excellent use of a particular list of capabilities that made good sense for her evaluative exercise on gender equity and on human rights.

In Development as Freedom, you say, "It is the power of reason that allows us to consider our obligations and ideals as well as our interests and advantages. To deny this freedom of thought would amount to a severe constraint on the reach of our rationality." Having just emerged from a blood-drenched century with a widespread faith in human reason and evolutionary progress, how are you so optimistic about the possibilities enabled by rationality?

Well, the bloodstains that you see were not, in fact, the results of exercising reasoning—indeed just the contrary. Whatever the Nazis in Germany could be credited with, it could not be said that they were impeccable models of human reasoning, nor great practitioners of open public discussion. The idea that there are whole groups of people, like Jews and gypsies, who are best exterminated cannot but offend elementary human reasoning in a major way. The same thing can be said of nearly all the blood-drenched events and experiences that occurred in the last century. There is often a peculiarly mistaken diagnosis suggesting that somehow it is the celebration of reason in the Enlightenment, beginning in the mid-18th century, that is responsible for the Nazi concentration camps, the Japanese prisoner of war camps, and the Hutu violence against Tutsis in Rwanda. I really do not see why people take that view because these are quintessential examples of people being driven by passion rather than by reason. In fact, reason could have played a major part in moderating such turmoil. When a Hutu, for instance, is being told that he is just a Hutu and he ought to kill Tutsis on grounds that Tutsis are an enemy lot, a Hutu could reason that he is not only a Hutu but he is also a Rwandan, an African, a human being, and all these identities make some demands on his attention. It is reason which could stand up against the imposition of unreasoned identities on people (such as, "You are just a Hutu and nothing else").

As a child, I saw the Hindu-Muslim riots in the 1940s and I know how easy it is to make people forget their reasoning and the understanding of the basic plurality of their identities in favor of one fierce identity, whether fiercely Hindu, or fiercely Muslim. There again the appeal has to be to reason. Indeed, precisely because we have emerged from such a blood-drenched century, it is extraordinarily important to fight for reason—to celebrate it, to defend it, and to help expand its reach.

It has been suggested that part of the reason for the form that religious movements have taken in much of the Third World, and in India's case specifically, has to do with the way in which these movements, integral to the anti-colonial nationalist struggle, were repressed in the immediate aftermath of independence because they were seen to be inconsistent with the modern constitutional state. Are you familiar with this argument? Would you agree that this genealogy complicates the standard liberal secularist line?

I am familiar with the argument and I believe it to be false. I don't think anything like that happened. In those places where religion was given a bigger range in politics, for example in Pakistan, it is not the case that this had the effect of strengthening the secular bases of the society—quite the contrary.

Colonialism imprisons the mind. But the colonized mind often takes a deeply dialectical form. One of the forms that the colonized mind takes is rabid anti-Westernism: you judge the world in terms of having been dominated by the West for a hundred years or more, and this can become the overarching concern, drowning all other identities and priorities. Suddenly, for example, activist Arab-Muslims might become persuaded that they must see themselves as people who are trying to settle scores with the West—and all other affiliations and associations are unimportant. The whole tradition of Arab science, Arab mathematics, Arab literature, music, painting would then have lost their informing and identifying role. That is the result of a colonized mind because you forget everything else other than your relation with the former colonial masters. I would link the outburst of some of the violence we see today to a deeply misguided reaction to colonialism; it is certainly not unconnected with colonialism.

When the Muslim kingdoms ran the centres of civilization in the old world, from Spain and Morocco to India to Indonesia, there was no feverish need to define yourself in negative terms, as your being against something, seeing yourself as what my friend Akeel Bilgrami calls "the Other" ("We are not Western!"). This is because being Muslim or Arab at that time involved a very positive identity. They had a philosophy, they had an interest in science, they had interest in their own work, they had interest in other people's work. The Greek works, such as Aristotle and Plato, survived in the Arab world in a way they had not in Europe. Hindu mathematics became known in the Christian West mainly through Muslim Arab authors who translated them from Sanskrit, from which Latin translations were made. At the time when the Muslim kingdoms were in command over the world, there was no need for them to define themselves in negative terms as "the Other." We see a similar attempt to raise the banner of "Asian values" today—it was very strong in the 1990s—when East and Southeast Asia try to "Westernize" feverishly. These are particular reflections of the colonized mind.

Next: "What we make of democracy depends to a great extent on how much we are ready to put into it."

You have noted how India has not suffered famine-related hunger since decolonization—given its vibrant democracy and free press—but has, on the other hand, not fared as well in dealing with endemic hunger, widespread mal/undernourishment, and high levels of illiteracy. How would you account for this? Do you believe there are structural impediments to reform, either nationally or globally? Is the existing form of liberal democracy—however informed in terms of participation, periodic elections and so on—sufficient to guarantee change?

Again, an excellent question. No institution is ever adequate on its own; everything depends on what use we make of these institutions. There is no substitute for political and social engagement. The success of India in preventing famines is an easy success, because famines are extremely easy to politicize: all you have to do is to print a picture of an emaciated mother and a dying child on the front page and that in itself is a stinging editorial. It does not require much reflection. But in order to bring quiet but widespread hunger to public attention, in order to publicize the debilitating effects of lack of schooling and illiteracy, and similarly the long-term deprivations of not having land reform, you need a great deal more engagement and use of imagination.

The Indian practice of democracy in this respect has been relatively modest, and success has been relatively moderate. Though I would say here again that things are changing; for example, issues of women's inequality received almost no attention in the media and in the political process until recently. This has changed now. It would have been very hard to think even 20-30 years ago that one of the serious concerns in the Indian parliament would be the ways and means of making sure that at least one-third of the members of parliament are women. This kind of issue had not come up earlier at all. So I think it is a question of what we can make of the institutions of democracy. When you need more democracy by practising it more, to say that democracy is at fault and let us have less democracy is to move exactly in the wrong direction.

There is a paper of mine that recently [2004] appeared in The New York Review of Books on India and China. I address this issue there. I also point out why I think that China is now suffering a certain amount from not having a democratic, multi-party system. That is, the Chinese made major progress early on because of a visionary political leadership after the Revolution. In terms of social change and progress in school education and health, they did much better than India even though they had a gigantic famine (they kept on making mistakes of that kind), but the basic commitment to universal school education and health care and employment for women served China extremely well. Much better than India's more hesitant process of democracy did.

On the other hand, if you look at the results today, despite the fact that since the economic reforms of 1979, Chinese economic growth has been much faster than India's, life expectancy in India has grown about three times as fast as that in China. To a great extent, it is connected with the avenues of public discussion and criticism that a democratic system provides to the health services. We know how terrible the Indian health services are, but the fact that we know it and the newspapers are constantly discussing it, makes it hard for those things to continue in the way they could in a system which does not encourage public criticism. In 1979, Chinese life expectancy was 14 years longer than India's; today it is seven years longer. Some parts of the country, like Kerala, are now four years ahead of China in terms of life expectancy. Another comparison to look at: in 1979, China and Kerala both had exactly the same infant mortality rates—37 per 1,000. By now, while the Chinese have cut that down from 37 to 30, in Kerala the infant mortality rate has come down from 37 to 10—a third of the Chinese number. Kerala has the advantage here of combining, on the one hand, the kind of radicalism that helped the Chinese make immediate progress in the early years after their revolution, and on the other, the benefits of a multi-party democratic system.

The main point to appreciate is that what we make of democracy depends to a great extent on how much we are ready to put into it. One of the really big issues for me in India is that the intellectuals who could play a big role in the democratic political system tend, by and large, not to go into politics. They often regard that as a shady affair. To some extent that is changing, but it requires a much more dramatic change and much greater engagement to make a fuller success of democracy in India. There is also a strong need for the politics of the underdogs—involving the poorer sections and the lower castes - to be less divisive and more united in confronting old inequalities that still survive. This is one of the tasks, along with many others, that democratic practice has to address.