Theorizing the Relation between State Capacity and Symbolic Power: Insights from the Case of the Family Planning Policy in India during the Emergency, 1975-77

Sourabh Singh, Florida State University

What ensures a state’s success in achieving its policy objectives – its capacity or symbolic power? In this article, I claim that neither of these factors, rather the interaction between them, shapes a state’s chances of achieving its policy objectives. Following this claim, I argue that if state actors’ strategies to increase the state capacity increase the state’s symbolic power, they will have a high chance of achieving their policy objectives and vice versa. I support my arguments by studying the case of the Indian state’s population control policy during the Emergency period (1975-77). Using quantitative data on population control policy and qualitative data on state actors’ interactions, I show that the Indian state successfully used its capacity-increasing strategies to achieve population control targets during the Emergency period. However, its capacity-increasing strategies simultaneously decreased its symbolic power to administer the population control policy. Hence, despite the success of the Emergency state in achieving its given population control targets, the Indian state prematurely ended its population control policy after the end of the Emergency.

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 Presented in Session 217. Changing Meanings of the State: Symbolic Power in State-Society Interactions