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In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India Illustrated Edition
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—William Grimes, The New York Times
“Sophisticated and sympathetic. . . . Richly evocative. . . . Engaging. . . . [Luce's] sharp-witted prose brings today's India to life with insight and irreverence.” —The Washington Post
“[Luce's] research is formidable. . . . [In Spite of the Gods] is stunning in its breadth.” —The New Yorker
“Indispensable. . . . [Luce] is a keen observer.”
—The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Edward Luce is the Washington commentator for the Financial Times and was previously the paper's South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi. He worked for two years as a speechwriter for former Treasury Secretary Laurence Summers. He studied Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Oxford.
- Item Weight : 13.1 ounces
- Paperback : 448 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400079772
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400079773
- Dimensions : 5.14 x 0.93 x 7.97 inches
- Publisher : Anchor; Illustrated edition (March 11, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #318,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Luce discusses many of India’s problems: the poverty, pollution, population growth, and the corruption. Luce also examines the rise of Hindu nationalism; the dynastic nature of its politics; its relationship with Pakistan and its Muslim minority; its often difficult relationships with the U.S. and China; its sensitivity to real and imagined slights; and its caste divisions. Luce describes the issues and provides a helpful resource for outsiders trying to understand how India works.
When this book was first published Western intellectuals, like Tom Friedman of the New York Times were touting India as the next superpower. I spent a lot of time in the country in the 1990s and I was skeptical. There are a lot of smart people in India but it was badly run. I was shocked by the poverty and the large numbers of child beggars. The 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi was shambolic. The Commonwealth Games is a mini-Olympics hosted every four years by former members of the British Empire. India held the event for the first time in 2010. The original budget was $7.5 billion but the eventual cost was ten times that amount. Luce blames corruption and larceny. By comparison, Britain spent $13 billion hosting the 2012 Olympics a much bigger event. The Commonwealth Games turned into an embarrassment because the Western media complained about shoddy infrastructure, dirty bathrooms, and poor hygiene. Luce claims that India now has many world-class private companies and it should have done better, but he blames the mentality of the old India, where greed often took priority.
Navigating the corruption is often a problem for Western companies. I was told by an Indian partner at a global accounting firm, who was advising my company on a proposed acquisition, that all Indian businessmen were crooks, it was just a question of degree. During due diligence, he advised us against buying a particular company. The CEO was later sent to prison. It seems that about 20% of the members of India’s parliament have been indicted for a crime. I was also told by our U.S. lawyers that Indian judges could be bought, so going to court was risky. My company’s senior management eventually concluded that although India might be a growing market, it was not for us. Luce believes that India is trying to fix the problem, but he notes that government officials still supplement their income with bribes.
Luce notes that India will soon have a larger population than China and more educated persons speaking English than the United States. On the other hand, poverty is still with us. In 2007, the Indian labor force was 470 million people but less than 7% of that labor force was employed in the formal economy. That means only 35 million people had job security. He claims that only about 35 million Indians pay income tax in a country with a population of 1.1 billion. Luce explains that even “in 2006, almost 300 million Indians can never be sure where their next meal will come from.” India still had only 84 television sets per 1,000 people (America had 938); 7.2 personal computers for every thousand people (Australia had 565); and the internet reached only 2 percent (Malaysia's figure was 34 percent). Roughly 35% of the country remains illiterate.
He discusses the country’s 150 million Muslims, whom he believes are loyal to India but don’t have equal status. I visited Ahmedabad many times in the 1990s and it seemed like a quiet, heavily polluted city, with appalling roads. The people were usually polite and friendly. The population has doubled since I first went there. Alcohol was officially banned, but our hosts were able to offer beer and whiskey. However, Ahmedabad became the scene of riots in 2002 where 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered while the police looked on (or collaborated).
Luce explains that India has remained “an intensely religious, spiritual and, in some ways, superstitious society.” Luce discusses Kashmir in Pakistan vs. India terms but doesn’t give a satisfactory explanation as to why the people of Kashmir, who are predominately Muslim, cannot decide their own fate. The people of Kashmir seem to want self-determination but neither India nor Pakistan is offering that. India has 500,000 troops the state and has been accused of appalling crimes (e.g., rape, murder, torture). India’s leaders get upset when the subject is raised.
Unlike China, India has not undergone an industrial revolution. Its economy is powered not by manufacturing but by its service industries. India is a country with large numbers of poor farmers, a highly competitive if small, technology sector and a lot of service businesses. Its growing middle class is materialistic and it has a new billionaire entrepreneurial class. Luce writes: “If Gandhi had not been cremated, he would be turning in his grave.” The impression that many people have of India is that software, IT and call centers are transforming its economic prospects. India has an IT workforce of just three million and only 350,000 work in its call centers. Luce believes that this modernity is not really touching the lives of most Indians.
Luce points out India's contradictions. It is a nation in which a woman can become Prime Minister or be stoned for suspected adultery. Most budding superpowers are good at sport but India only really excels at cricket. At the 2012 Olympics, the U.S. won 46 gold medals: China 38; Britain 29; Russia 24; and India 0. Although it has the world's 7th largest economy, India is excluded from the G7 because it is not considered a developed country.
“In Spite of the Gods” gave me a better understanding of India. I found the Indian people easy-going and friendly, but I quickly discovered that I did not really understand the culture or how business was done. You had to quickly become cynical to avoid being taken for a ride. I wish I had read this book in the 1990s.
Luce is a journalist who lived in India and has deep connections to the country. His prose is clear, lively, and free of jargon, and his explanations, while often impassioned and forceful, seem to me to be objective and unbiased.
The overwhelming impression the book left me with is of India's promise. Luce believes that the country can continue to grow and raise its people out of poverty, overcoming in the process the problems of official corruption, Hindu nationalism, caste discrimination, gender bias, and others that are holding the country back.
I will be looking for anything Luce may have to say about the current national government that regained power after the book's publication.
There’s a lot to chew on/munge on/reflect on in this book for the Indian society and all Indians in general. However, some of the major topics do stand out and do raise their heads time and time again, Communalism/Fundamentalism being one of them. The author provides glimpses of experiences that he has had throughout India, from which he has extracted the thought that India has risk of masquerading with Intolerance. All these experiences are from 15-20 years back. I can assume he would have written a separate book on this topic, if he would have started on this in today’s world. Having said that, I found it a little bit too cynical at times and perhaps unappreciative of the concept of Hinduism. Pardon my inherent biases but I felt as if the author tended to look at Hinduism through the definitions of religion and lens of western definitions of “faith”. As it were, these tend to be quite different.
However, in other major areas highlighted (corruption, bureaucratic slumber, inherent caste biases) the author is spot on. Reading through these cases, I am very sure readers (and here I am assuming people who have lived /living in India) would be able to relate to various instances in their own lives where they have come across similar deplorable unpleasant experiences. The author explains in simple words how these are acting as speed brakers in India’s development.
Another interesting aspect of the book is the author’s take on Nehruvian principles of swadeshi, secularism, socialism that have been the philosophical pillars on which the Indian constitution was constructed and where they stand today and how they have been diluted (in some cases rightly so, as the author argues). These experiences are a compelling read. As far as the chapters on India’s foreign relations
Another criticism I have is that in terms of defining India, the author has restricted himself to North (Hindi heartland, including the west) and the South primarily. Eastern India finds hardly any mention in the book. Eastern India has its own issues, predilections that are totally unique and at the same time contributing to the Indian paraphernalia. In many cases, some of the experiences and assumptions are in direct contradiction to the prevailing constructs of the north and south. Hence it would have been a much more comprehensive labyrinth of a work, it the author would have blended in this often-ignored region.
Overall “Inspite of the Gods” is a benevolent critique of Indian society and its pedantry, its extremities, and its puzzling inactions. The last legs of the book provide a mini parable on a bunch of SHOULDs that India needs to undertake to rightfully take its place as a premier superpower in the world.
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