There is a wide diversity in the provision of public services in India. In some states one can go miles without seeing a functional school or public health centre, where roads are poorly maintained, and electricity has not yet been introduced, while in other places governments tend to function remarkably well in extending basic public services to all. Tamil Nadu is one of those few states with an impressive commitment to services. This book examines the dynamics that led to Tamil Nadu's commitment. The author argues that incessant public action in the southern Indian state underlies that commitment. People tend to act when services are not available or functional and thus create pressure on the government to deliver. However, a few decades ago most Dalits, women or people from lower castes and classes would rarely enter administrative offices, police stations or other government offices - leave alone asserting themselves with these officials. The crux of the book deals with the socio-political changes that made this form of decentralized public action possible, with its tremendous consequences for governance.
This work further goes on to establish how these dynamics have a resonance in many other parts of India. While such changes started early on in southern India, similar patterns have emerged over the last 20 years in major north Indian states creating pressure on the once dysfunctional states to deliver more services effectively.