Edward Luce on Modern India


by Shariq
29th October, 2008 at 2:45 pm    

I finished reading Edward Luce’s book, ‘In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India’ last week. The thing I really liked about it was the fact that Luce doesn’t shy away from looking a look at the many, many problems that India faces. There have been too many people who have made the rise of China and India seem inevitable when it is anything but. Some parts of India are going forward at a rapid speed, but other areas are if anything getting worse.

In the end, Luce is still optimistic about India’s future. He believes that although its plurality (both cultural and political) may sometimes inhibit the speed of growth, in the long run it will provide it with the stability to become a major power. I tend to agree with this but am worried about the impact of external shocks which Indians might not be in a position to control, such as how to deal with global energy shortages.

For anyone interested in modern India and how it got to where it is, this book is an excellent place to start. He hits on all the big issues (caste, bureaucracy, hindu nationalism, congress, education, gender equality, economic growth, corruption, infrastructure etc) without underestimating the many subtleties in all of them.

I think his analysis of Gujarat is particularly interesting and shows how difficult it is to assess where India will be in 10 years. Despite the fact that it is one of the wealthiest and most globalised economies in India, culturally it is still very regressive and was home of the barbaric anti-Muslim riots a few years ago. Furthermore, the BJP government led by Narendra Modi which was largely responsible for the violence increasing its majority in the next election and in 2007 it was reelected again.

I reviewed ‘The Black Swan’ a couple of weeks ago and one of the key arguments in that is to understand the limits of human knowledge. Despite the fact that India has done well in the recent past does not mean that its rise is inevitable and that it isn’t vulnerable to ‘Black Swans’ which could throw it dramatically off track. India’s success in maintaining its democracy and pulling millions of people out of poverty is to be admired. For everyone’s sake lets hope that Luce’s optimism is justified and that it continues to do so.


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  1. douglas clark — on 29th October, 2008 at 3:06 pm  

    Shariq,

    Thanks for the heads up on this book. I am making up an Amazon list of books I should read, and I’ll add this to the list.

    Though why India would not settle for just being incredibly rich, c.f. Switzerland, rather than being a global superpower is a bit beyond me. What is it about nationalism that requires the ability to project power?

  2. Jai — on 29th October, 2008 at 5:06 pm  

    Though why India would not settle for just being incredibly rich, c.f. Switzerland, rather than being a global superpower is a bit beyond me. What is it about nationalism that requires the ability to project power?

    In India’s case, a lot of that is a reaction to having been on the receiving end of colonialism for a couple of centuries.

    And, generally speaking, as a group Indians are a very proud people, y’know ;)

  3. shariq — on 29th October, 2008 at 5:07 pm  

    Hey Douglas, I think Luce would argue that India at least right now isn’t that interested in projecting its power overseas. The difference with Switzerland is that just because of India’s size, it is going to have a tremendous amount of power internationally.

    How it chooses to use of it we’ll have to wait and see. One thing we can be relatively sure of is that it will do whatever is necessary for its energy supply. America has Saudi, the Chinese have Sudan, India may very well have a pipeline coming from Iran. Even though the US Nuclear deal will help, nuclear isn’t going to be enough for India.

  4. alana — on 29th October, 2008 at 5:10 pm  

    Has anyone read Martha Nussbaum’s The Clash Within. If so I would be interested to read your comments.

  5. Vikrant — on 29th October, 2008 at 6:59 pm  

    Umm.. The Clash Within is an extremely biased book which over exaggerates the clout and effect of the Hindutva jokers! Thats about it!

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