Grand Tamasha

How Bureaucracy Can Work for the Poor

Episode Summary

Akshay Mangla joins Milan for a conversation on political norms and their impact on functions of the state.

Episode Notes

Over the decades, India has developed a reputation for having a strong society but a weak state. This bureaucratic, lumbering behemoth has especially struggled to deliver basic public goods like health, education, water, and sanitation.  

But a new book by the University of Oxford political scientist Akshay Mangla, Making Bureaucracy Work: Norms, Education and Public Service Delivery in Rural India, forces us to revise this conventional wisdom.  

In some parts of India, the state has succeeded in delivering quality primary education for its poorest citizens despite sharing the same institutional framework and often the same demographic characteristics of other, poorly performing regions.  

To talk more about why and when the state works, Akshay joins Milan on the podcast this week. Akshay and Milan discuss the importance of norms in driving policy implementation, the stark variation in education outcomes in north India, and the ways in which authoritarianism and deliberation can coexist. Plus, the two discuss the Modi government’s New Education Policy and the future of primary education in the country. 


1. Akshay Mangla, “Social conflict on the front lines of reform: Institutional activism and girls’ education in rural India,” Public Administration and Development 42, no. 1 (2022): 95-105.

2. Akshay Mangla, “Elite Strategies and Incremental Policy Change: The Expansion of Primary Education in India,” Governance 31, no. 2 (2018): 381-399.

3. “Making Development Work for the Poor (with Rajesh Veeraraghavan),” Grand Tamasha, April 20, 2022.

4. “Rohini Nilekani on the Secret to Successful Governance,” Grand Tamasha, October 5, 2022.