Seldom does one come across a book that teaches and titillates, informs and impresses, disturbs and delights, all at the same time. But then such is the India of today – as described by Edward Luce in his sparklingly brilliant book ‘In Spite of the Gods – The Strange Rise of Modern India’. From the very first chapter, Mr. Luce takes us on a roller-coaster ride dissecting across cultural differences, social bias and traditional inaction that has – and continued to have, since independence - a vice like grip on the tolerant Indian society of today.
Mr. Luce traverses the vast landscapes of the multi-cultural country in its rickety trains. He interviews most of the men that have helped, in one way or the other, shape the physiognomy of the current India and presents those interviews in an objective, and mostly humorous, way. India, according to Mr. Luce, is a land of contradictions. No other country could achieve this amount of economic prosperity without undergoing an industrial revolution. No other country’s society has been so deeply divided by caste inequalities, yet united by its cultural diversity. Stereotyping or generalizing India, based on one particular city or locality could be highly dangerous – not to mention grossly incorrect.
Edward Luce starts off by shedding some light on India’s history and how it affected its current ‘schizophrenic’ economy. Then he talks about the highly intricate red tape – and its offshoot, that is corruption - that engulfs the country so profoundly, that it could be better described not as a part of the system but the system itself. The procrastinating attitudes of the various departments of administration have been greatly ascribed to Nehru’s proclivity for socialism, which in turn resulted in the government control over the majority of systems which propel the economy, and hence the nation (though the nation removed most of the government controls, that is ‘licence raj’, and opened up the economy in 1991).
Mr. Luce then talks about India’s lower casts, and the requirement and repercussions of reservations in government jobs. It is followed by the most engrossing chapter in the book on the growing threat of Hindu nationalism to the country’s strong democratic and secular nature. Here he discusses the political spectrum, enticed mostly by the appeasement of communities or religions to garner votes, which in turn decides the balance of power. He discusses both the majority parties – the Congress (mostly obsessed with dynasty politics) and the BJP (which (mis)uses the plank of Hindu nationalist extremism). The state and social status of Muslims in India is also talked over in detail.
Towards the end, Edward Luce focuses on the international standing of India and the power it exercises and seeks to achieve in the near future. He talks about the triangular balance of power between India, US and China – the 3 nations that would demand – more than any other nation - increasing attention of the world in the coming decades. The sun of a better India is on the horizon of prosperity. But Mr. Luce does a perfect job of beating the trumpet of a new India with an aptly guarded caution.