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This conversation will revolve around the themes of the recent book, Planning Democracy: How a Professor, an Institute, and an Idea Shaped India by Nikhil Menon. The book explores how planning and development became so central to the story of modern India. After nearly two centuries of colonial rule, economic planning was meant to be independent India’s route to prosperity.
Planning Democracy is about one of the great experiments of the twentieth century—how India combined Soviet-inspired socialist Five Year Plans and western liberal democracy at a time when these visions appeared contradictory. It looks beyond the debates about when and why the Plans failed to instead explain how planning captured the imagination of both India’s elite and its public. Planning not only built India’s data infrastructure—working through figures like the gifted scientist PC Mahalanobis and pioneering institutions like the Indian Statistical Institute. It also became a mode of nation-building, shaping the nature Indian democracy and how it was seen on the global stage. The Five-Year Plans loomed so large that they linked surprisingly far-flung contexts—from Prime Ministers to computers to Bollywood to Hindutva.
This discussion—featuring Sushmita Pati, Rajendran Narayanan, and Nikhil Menon—will explore the ways in which the legacy of India’s experiments with planning, development, and democracy continue to shape India and the world. This will be followed by a Q&A.
Nikhil Menon is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. A historian of modern India, he was educated at Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University before completing his PhD in History at Princeton University. He is currently working on his next book—a history of Indian soft power.
Sushmita Pati is Assistant Professor at National Law School of India University, Bangalore. She finished her PhD in Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research interest lie at the confluence of urban politics and political economy. Some of her writings have appeared in Economic and Political Weekly, Contributions to Indian Sociology and media outlets like Wire and Indiaforum.
Rajendran Narayanan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Arts and Sciences at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. After completing his Ph.D in statistics from Cornell University, he has held academic positions at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, Cornell University, Ithaca and Ashoka University, Sonepat. Rajendran is one of the founding members of an organisation called LibTech India that works on transparency and accountability of rural social policies. He is also actively involved in several rights-based campaigns.