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The invention of corruption: India and the License Raj

Misra, Tanmay (2023) The invention of corruption: India and the License Raj. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004591


The word ‘corruption’ appears frequently in literature on India’s former policy of state planning, pejoratively referred to as the “License Raj.” In this literature, writers often consider corruption to be inherent to state planning and allege that corruption is a central reason behind the policy’s failure. I place these allegations in a history that starts with the arrival of the East India Company on the Indian subcontinent. In examining this history, I consider a number of claims that writers associate with corruption in India and the License Raj: for example, that corruption is economically inefficient, that it is a function of premodern loyalties, or that it is an outcome of monopolistic behavior. Through close reading of texts that allege corruption in the License Raj, I argue that these claims serve to discredit the policy of state planning while naturalizing the concept of ‘corruption’ as something technical and ahistorical. Further, I argue that the term ‘corruption’ in India has had contradictory meanings over the course of its trajectory. In other words, corruption in India has been portrayed both as something premodern as well as modern, something endemic to bureaucracy as well as something bureaucracy can reform, something both timeless as well as historically contingent. I conclude that these contradictions have been papered over by critics of state planning, however unwittingly, to argue for market liberalization. In demonstrating the importance of the colonial encounter in shaping how we often conceptualize ‘corruption,’ I suggest that the allegation of corruption in India’s License Raj is instructive as to how ‘corruption’ has been conceptualized more broadly. Namely, corruption is often believed to be a problem of putatively premodern societies with extensive state regulation of the economy. A closer examination of the literature reveals other, sometimes obscured ideas about corruption which challenge this prevalent view.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2023 Tanmay Misra
Uncontrolled Keywords: corruption, industrial policy, India
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
J Political Science > JX International law
K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > Law
Supervisor: Marks, Susan and Humphreys, Stephen

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