Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to evaluate India's five year plan strategies for including the deprived in the development process since Independence. Design/methodology/approach – This is a policy review paper based on past studies. Findings – The paper argues that effective policy formulation for inclusion and its evaluation is conditioned by the available institutional capacity to generate and effectively utilize a sound information base. Using empirical illustrations based on past studies, this paper shows that India's pursuit of inclusion has been hampered because of the limited appreciation of design as well as limitations in available information. This has led to a mechanical pursuit of sophistication in policy formulation, which has rendered both the implementation and an honest evaluation of the policy process difficult. Originality/value – This paper has relevance for inclusive policy reforms and will open up a debate, as well as future research, on the issues raised.