AIIS 2013 Book Prize Awarded to Sunila Kale for Electrifying India

Sunila Kale 1The American Institute of Indian Studies is pleased to announce that its 2013 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences has been awarded to Sunila Kale of the University of Washington for her book manuscript, Electrifying India: Regional Political Economies of Development. The book is under contract with Stanford University Press.

In the book, Professor Kale investigates why, more than six decades after independence, so much of India—especially rural India—is still not electrified or has intermittent and poor quality electricity delivery. Throughout the 20th century, electrification was considered to be the primary vehicle of modernity and development, as well as its quintessential symbol.  In India, electricity was central to the conceptualization of Indian modernity by early nationalists and planners and huge sums were spent on electrification from then until now.  Yet despite all this, today nearly 400 million Indians have no access to electricity.

The author offers three in-depth case studies of the states of Maharashtra, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, telling the story of the history of electrification and electricity supply in each, as well as offering a careful analysis of the various interest groups in each state which stand to gain from cheap electricity provision, such as sugar cane farmers in the districts to the east of Mumbai. The author has spent considerable time trying to reconstruct, from often scanty records in the State Electricity Boards, the history of electrification, investments and policies in each of the three states. The author argues that ‘the axiomatic view of Indian federalism’ as highly centralized is overstated. In the case of electrification, and the history of the policies that have been pursued to bring it about, there has been enormous variation among states. The key factor has been whether and in what ways rural political coalitions have developed. The history of these politics and their effects on policy and practice regarding the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in the long period of the interventionist state, up to the beginning of the 1990s, are shown to have had a profound influence upon the responses of different states in the present era of privatization.

Professor Kale argues that the earlier period of an advancing state apparatus conditioned in important ways the manner of the state’s retreat in the contemporary moment of market reforms. In those parts of the countryside that were successfully electrified in the decades after independence, the gains were due to neither nationalist idealism nor merely technocratic plans.  Instead, rural electrification occurred either when rural constituencies became politically influential in state governments, or when farmers emerged to demand a larger share of development resources.  Electrifying India explores the political and historical puzzle of uneven development in India’s vital electricity sector.

Sunila S. Kale is an assistant professor in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, where her teaching and research focus on Indian and South Asian politics and the political economy of development.  She obtained an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a doctoral degree from the University of Texas, Austin.

The Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences honors Professor Joseph Elder, professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, who served as AIIS president from 1986-1994 and as chair of the AIIS board of trustees from 1994-2002.