Consider other light house type services that no one disputes the state has an obligation to provide. Such as, immunization of children, sanitation and availability of drinking water. In all these areas, the impact of a state government is direct, relatively straightforward to achieve and critical to the population’s well being. Here is how India’s states measure up.
Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are consistently good in every measure we have looked at so far. In certain measures, the relatively richer states of Punjab and Haryana do just as well. The only other exception is Maharashtra — which has had a long history of agitational politics that still seems to have some effect. For example, Maharashtra is the state with maximum prevalence of public latrines well ahead of the second best state, Tamil Nadu. One assumes such a basic service requires a certain grass roots agitation that can be ascribed to Dalit activism; maybe there are other reasons.
A simple hypothesis that one is tempted to arrive at from the data so far is: it does not matter who is in power for a state to demonstrate good governance; what is important is the strength of the opposition. All the three high performing states of Kerala, TN and HP have not had a single government voted back to power in the last two decades. While the most obvious parameter common to the poorly performing states of Bihar, MP and Orissa is long periods of one party rule. UP’s atrociously poor indicators are despite a robust opposition while Rajasthan’s poor indicators seem to be improving at a pace better than the other comparably worse-off states.