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The Idea of India Hardcover – January, 1998
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From Library Journal
Khilnani (politics, Univ. of London) offers a penetrating analysis of the spread of democracy to ever more diverse segments of the Indian body politic. Juxtaposed to this trend is the breakup of the Congress Party's hegemony and the subsequent growth of regional political parties. With the ebbing of congressional power and the elimination of its Socialist economic constraints, the Indian economy has embraced greater growth as the number of Indians living below the poverty line diminishes. Khilnani attributes much of this growth to India's cities, which emerge as paradoxical points of exclusion and economic dynamism when compared with rural India. In the process, national identity has in Khilnani's vision been subsumed by regional political focuses, urban and rural divisions, and greater religious identification. Hence, India's future will necessitate the continuance of a viable democracy sustaining the economic, cultural, and social diversity of the subcontinent. The author skillfully draws out the ironies and paradoxes of Indian history with a subtle, illuminating prose. For informed readers.?John F. Riddick, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mt. Pleasant
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A profound meditation on the meaning and significance of India, which, Khilnani (Politics/Univ. of London) argues, has a far wider relevance than it is conventional to suppose. The relevance comes in part, of course, from the fact that India is the most populous democracy in the world and that it, unlike most of the countries that became independent in the postwar period, remained a democracy, with the exception of a 22- month ``emergency'' imposed by Indira Gandhi. This is curious, because there was little in India's history to prepare it for democracy, and its independence caused the fearful bloodletting of Partition, when Pakistan broke away. Khilnani calls Partition ``the unspeakable sadness at the heart of the idea of India,'' which raises the question of whether it was a division of one territory between two nations or peoples, or the breaking of one civilization into two territories. He believes that the survival of democracy is largely attributable to Nehru's exemplary adherence to democratic and parliamentary procedures during his long ascendency from 1947 to 1964 and that democracy has now ``irreversibly entered the Indian political imagination.'' But the understanding of democracy has changed. Government have become more centralized and powerful, the stakes have become much higher, the studious secularism and religious tolerance of the earlier period have become more tenuous, and violence has grown. Democracy has come to mean adherence to the electoral process. In his most perceptive essays, Khilnani explores this new conception and what it now means to be an Indian. His analysis of the economy is less satisfactory and fails to give a sense of where India is going since it shook off what was called ``the Hindu rate of growth,'' and whether, amid all the other roiling issues, economic rationality can prevail. An intelligent, well-written. and original contribution to the analysis of a country that, perhaps because it has been a good deal less troublesome than China, has received disproportionately less attention. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
I like Sunil Khilnani's philosophical and historical approach to the idea of India. His in-depth studies of the concept of "India" are thoughtfully done. Rather than judging one view as better or more complete than other, Khilnani simply lays the concepts on the table.
The ideas of both 19th century Indian and European historians, the politicians Gandhi, Nehru, and Jinnah, Bal Thackeray's followers, and others, plus the thoughts of modern Indians educated both at home and abroad, are there to think about and learn from.
Khilnani ends his book with a quote by Rabindranath Tagore: "A country is not territorial, but ideational," following it with a slogan from the tourism board's poster, "India is a state of mind."
I especially liked this book because it made me think bigger thoughts. As I read it occurred to me that studying the successes and failures of the nation of India would be a good lesson for the EU, which is also composed of many similar but disparate people striving to work together.
Some books are good to read in pairs. This one would be good to read immediately before reading "Imagining India" by Nilekani.The books were written ten years apart and, like Lego blocks,they neatly fit together.
But the book misses the point on the modern India of the last two decades. Khilnani tries to find deeper meaning in things that have little meaning. Hindutva was an ideology sold by Advani to sway the masses, nothing more. The BJP is floundering today because it has failed to provide quality governance and is unappealing to many who like India's multi pluralism. The Congress on the other hand provides the same poor governance but is more inclusive. His take on the likes of Deva Gowda and Mulayam working for their own constituences is misplaced - that has been happening from politicians all the time. Then there are the errors in facts - Deva Gowda never brought projects to Karnataka during the time he was PM.
And then there is this supposed endless passionate talk about who is an Indian. In 35 + years of living in India, I have never encountered such a discussion. We are who we are and we dont fret about subjects like who is the true Indian? Only arm chair reviewers like Khilnani do.
And the book misses the whole issue of now what? What do we do about corruption, lack of education, increasing crime, pollution? Whats the solution for India? Its obvious the political class are failing us. How do we get out of this quagmire? Can private initiatives do everything? Can there be a new political movement that can take over? Can the current leadership re-invent themselves?
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