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Interrogating the resurgence of administrative state: ideas and state capacity

Himanshu Jha (Department of Political Science, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 17 May 2022

Issue publication date: 15 June 2022




Contemporary arguments around efficient public management (PM) envisage a limited role of the state for efficiency, effectiveness and austerity. On the contrary, the PM of the Covid-19 pandemic shows the significant role and depth of administrative state in multi-faceted ways. In this context, the purpose of this article is to examine the administrative role of the Indian state and the extent of its “stateness” in the PM of the novel coronavirus pandemic.


This article is a bifocal study of both the national and a single sub-national case. Following mixed qualitative methods, this article draws on government documents, interviews and recent media reports to examine the reemergence of a strong administrative state in India in the context of PM of the pandemic. This methodology allows us to go deep into the cases and provide a robust understanding of the underlying processes within the state that throw open some compelling insights on the PM of the pandemic.


This article shows the reemergence of a strong administrative state in multiple ways. It demonstrates that state’s administrative capacity is an outcome of both ideas within the state and its rationality that shapes policy strategies and planning. Further, a combination of learning, puzzling and powering plays a critical role in pandemic management. Exploring pandemic-induced state capacity in India sheds light on the administrative state’s emergence, extent and function in an emerging developing country setting.

Research limitations/implications

One of the major challenges of this study is the evolving nature of the pandemic. In this light, the study limits its focus to the earliest stage of the pandemic. Revisiting this paper in future would provide a more comprehensive picture. Furthermore, the study is limited to the national and a single sub-national case. This research will gain from including more sub-national and cross-country comparisons to test some of the conjectures presented in this paper.

Practical implications

This article shows that the state as a conceptual variable needs to be taken seriously to understand and explain the PM strategy, especially in times of crisis. It also persuades us to better understand the political power of “ideas” within the state to explain policy outcomes and evolving PM strategies.


This article seeks to push the frontiers of research on state capacity and PM by exploring how social learning and puzzling come together to consolidate policy paradigms. Through the lens of PM of the current Covid-19 pandemic by the Indian state, this article reflects on the reemergence of the administrative state. It examines the long-term ramifications of such a revival for both practice and theory of state capacity and PM in a large, diverse democracy, such as India.



The author is thankful to two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and critiques. The responsibility for the content, however, is entirely the author’s.


Jha, H. (2022), "Interrogating the resurgence of administrative state: ideas and state capacity", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 35 No. 4, pp. 513-529.



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