Politics and the Right to Work

India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

March 2017 9781849045704 328pp


India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), passed in 2005, has been among the developing world’s most ambitious anti-poverty initiatives. By ‘guaranteeing’ 100 days of work annually to every rural household, NREGA has sought to advance the Indian constitution’s commitment to securing citizens’ ‘right to work’. This book is not a technical evaluation of programme performance. It offers instead a detailed analysis of the politics surrounding NREGA: the model of political action that motivated its architects, the public advocacy and parliamentary maneuvering involved in its passage, the political dynamics shaping implementation at state and local levels, the institutional constraints on reforming how it operates, and its complex impacts on the political capacities of poor people.

Based on their extensive – primarily qualitative – field research, the authors examine changing conceptions of rights and the challenges of making states more accountable to their most disadvantaged citizens. Their analysis of the politics of NREGA provides a window onto the inner workings of Indian democracy and the complex character of the Indian state as it attempts to upgrade its social welfare provision to something more in keeping with the country’s growing stature.


The ideas discussed in this book are keys to an understanding of struggles for socio-economic rights around the world and the response of the corresponding state. … This book is a primer for those interested in trying to understand the complexity of development politics in a country like India.’ — South Asian Multidisciplinary Academic Journal

‘A magisterial work on India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, a major departure in India’s development trajectory, and much talked about in India and among development professionals globally. It is a valuable contribution to the understanding of India’s adoption of this rights-based development programme, the politics and processes of the implementation and its overall impacts on the deepening of Indian democracy. It also has great value for scholars of comparative perspectives on development.’ — Ashok Pankaj, Professor, Council for Social Development, New Delhi

‘A first-rate book. Conceptually lucid, empirically rich and crisply written, it provides an excellent analysis of the origins, development and implementation of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the largest public works programme in the world. The book will be of tremendous interest to students and scholars of Indian politics, social policy and the political economy of development.’ — Sanjay Ruparelia, Associate Professor of Politics, New School for Social Research, New York, and author of Divided We Govern: Coalition Politics in Modern India


Rob Jenkins is Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

James Manor is the Emeka Anyaoku Professor Emeritus of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

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