Monday, September 23, 2013

Edward Luce's "In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India"

There is an observation in Edward Luce's book "In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India", a comprehensive analysis of modern India, which goes like: India is a country of palimpsests. In a palimpsest, many layers keep on piling while the basic layer underneath never gets destroyed. Likewise, the "glorious" tradition of India continues to assert its presence in India despite the changing modern values keep appearing as time moves ahead. This easy/uneasy coexistence of the sacred and the profane proves that India is a land of contradiction. Luce, a correspondent for the newspaper "Financial Times" has covered India for many years and he is married to an Indian girl. So, he is in a position to comment on modern India. Relying on his on-field observations and on country statistics, he is objective in his analysis and is not solely confined to Oriental mind frame of his British predecessors which tries to exoticize the East. Sycophancy, rise of religious nationalism, inept and corrupt administration, poverty and mismanagement in villages and cities and appalling condition of child laborers and myriads of issues present the murky shadows of shining India. Luce comments that the 21st century belongs to India because of its steady economic progress and it has to take care of its citizens rather than just catering to the interests of few chosen. He not only points the problems of India but suggests some economic remedies as well. India's foreign policy towards small neighbors including Nepal should not be patronizing but respectful, Luce argues. I cannot agree more. I liked this book for its unflinching analysis but there are some unpalatable points like when he cocks a snook at Hindu organizations by comparing them with fascists and Nazis. However, his jokes like "Cast your vote to vote your caste", satirizing the caste politics, add charm to the book. One can correctly declare that India is such a gigantic nation to be captured in few pages and Luce's ambitious book may fall off the mark. But he has tried his best.   

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