India’s COVID-19 Response: Examining an Outlier to Explain Subnational Variation

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Security, Development and Sustainability in Asia : a World Scientific Reference on Major Policy and Development Issues of 21st Century Asia, Volume 3: Environment, Sustainability and Human Security

Publication Date

Winter 1-1-2023


Zhiqun Zhu


World Scientific


Hackensack, New Jersey


Volume 3



First Page


Last Page



Political Science

Publisher Statement

Volume 3 offers a critical overview of environment, public health, and human security in Asia. Case studies are selected from countries that are at different stages of development and facing different environment and health challenges today.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating consequences for many countries in the Global South, who already deal with inadequate public health expenditures and highly uneven growth and welfare outcomes. In India, the first wave in 2020 exposed the flaws in infrastructure creation and state capacity as it struggled to handle the increasing caseloads in urban industrial centers and later rural areas. In the face of mounting infections and fatalities and the burden of accommodating retuning migrant workers, some states in India performed far better with flattening the curve and implementing remedial measures. Using the outlier case of Odisha, a paradox with its chronic underdevelopment but COVID management success, this chapter argues that centralized decision-making geared towards efficient resource allocation worked synergistically with local community engagement to be effective. Odisha’s geographic location, which puts it in the path of natural disasters, exercises an important exogenous effect on politics. Its dominant party system creates incentives for the ruling party to maintain its incumbent advantage through disaster management as well as patronage. While the former has strengthened governance and local coordination mechanisms in the case of emergencies, the latter has included targeted rural health programs that have created local community capacity. While these factors have aided COVID-19 management in the short-term, long-term continuity of good outcomes depends on a deeper commitment to sustained capacity building and decentralized participatory mechanisms akin to the Kerala model.