TECH TALK: Good Books: In Spite of the Gods (Part 2)

The Guardian reviewed Edward Luces book in August:

Several recent books have examined the savage inequalities between the country’s burgeoning, educated, urban elite and the shockingly poor who live in the vast hinterlands. Luce’s thoughtful and thorough book – ‘an unsentimental evaluation of contemporary India against the backdrop of its widely expected ascent to great power status in the 21st century’ – fits right into this category.
He suggests the dichotomy of India in the book’s subtitle and later calls India’s rise ‘strange’ because, while becoming an important political and economic force, it has remained ‘an intensely religious, spiritual and, in some ways, superstitious society’.

It is always difficult to structure a book like this one, but Luce manages well by breaking up the narrative into neat chapters, each dealing with a different theme and each capable of standing on its own feet. We are offered accounts of India’s ‘schizophrenic’ flourishing economy; its state machinery; its caste conflicts; the rise of Hindu nationalism; the dynastic nature of its politics; its relationship with Pakistan and its Muslim minority; its relationship with the US and China; the country’s experience of grappling with modernity and urbanisation.

The Hindu Business Line had a detailed review of Luces book:
The book concludes with a discussion of `India’s huge opportunities and challenges in the twenty-first century’. Judging by the living conditions of ordinary Indians, rather than by `the drama of national events,’ Luce is of the view that the country is moving forward `on a remarkably stable trajectory’. And, as opposed to China, India has given a higher priority to stability than it has to efficiency.

“India is like a lorry with twelve wheels. If one or two puncture, it doesn’t go into the ditch,” is a quote of Myron Weiner that he cites. That way, China may have fewer wheels so it can travel faster, but “people far beyond China’s borders worry about what would happen if a wheel came off,” notes Luce, extending Weiner’s analogy.

Though investors are deterred by the babus, institutional advantages such as `an independent judiciary and a free media’ may make India the proverbial tortoise that can overtake the Chinese hare, postulates the author. “India can also draw on a deep well of intellectual capital.”

Yet, for those closer home, a word of caution is not to take our economic strengths for granted. “As the joke goes, `India never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity’. It is also suffering from a premature spirit of triumphalism,” alerts Luce.

Indias rise has just begun. There are a lot of things that can still go wrong. But I feel that for the first time, there is an optimism in people that tomorrow will be better than today. And that can make all the difference. My advice to those taking a flight to India this winter: pick a copy of Luces book and read it en route. It will help you understand India better.

TECH TALK Good Books

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.