Synopses & Reviews
India remains a mystery to many Americans, even as it is poised to become the worlds third largest economy within a generation, outstripping Japan. It will surpass China in population by 2032 and will have more English speakers than the United States by 2050. In In Spite of the Gods
, Edward Luce, a journalist who covered India for many years, makes brilliant sense of India and its rise to global power. Already a number-one bestseller in India, his book is
sure to be acknowledged for years as the definitive introduction to modern India.
In Spite of the Gods illuminates a land of many contradictions. The booming tech sector we read so much about in the West, Luce points out, employs no more than one million of Indias 1.1 billion people. Only 35 million people, in fact, have formal enough jobs to pay taxes, while three-quarters of the country lives in extreme deprivation in Indias 600,000 villages. Yet amid all these extremes exists the worlds largest experiment in representative democracyand a largely successful one, despite bureaucracies riddled with horrifying corruption.
Luce shows that India is an economic rival to the U.S. in an entirely different sense than China is. There is nothing in India like the manufacturing capacity of China, despite the huge potential labor force. An inept system of public education leaves most Indians illiterate and unskilled. Yet at the other extreme, the middle class produces ten times as many engineering students a year as the United States. Notwithstanding its future as a major competitor in a globalized economy, American. leaders have been encouraging Indias rise, even welcoming it into the nuclear energy club, hoping to balance Chinas influence in Asia.
Above all, In Spite of the Gods is an enlightening study of the forces shaping India as it tries to balance the stubborn traditions of the past with an unevenly modernizing present. Deeply informed by scholarship and history, leavened by humor and rich in anecdote, it shows that India has huge opportunities as well as tremendous challenges that make the future “hers to lose.”
"A burgeoning economic and geopolitical giant, India has the 21st century stamped on it more visibly than any other nation after China and the U.S. It's been an expanding force since at least 1991, explains journalist Luce, when India let go of much of the protectionist apparatus devised under Nehru after independence in 1947 from Britain, as part of a philosophy of swadeshi (or self-reliance) that's still relevant in India's multiparty democracy. From his vantage as the (now former) Financial Times's South Asia bureau chief, Luce illuminates the drastically lopsided features of a nuclear power still burdened by mass poverty and illiteracy, which he links in part to government control of the economy, an overwhelmingly rural landscape, and deep-seated institutional corruption. While describing religion's complex role in Indian society, Luce emphasizes an extremely heterogeneous country with a growing consumerist culture, a geographically uneven labor force and an enduring caste system. This lively account includes a sharp assessment of U.S. promotion of India as a countervailing force to China in a three-power 'triangular dance,' and generally sets a high standard for breadth, clarity and discernment in wrestling with the global implications of New India." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
These days, all U.S. eyes are on China and India, sizing them up as the next great political and economic players. While books on China are many, few have tackled India, where contradictions abound. The booming tech centers of its cities stand in stark contrast to the medieval poverty of its villages. Its fervent tradition of democracy is coupled with horrifying corruption. Its modern history as a secular and diverse nation is being challenged by the rise of Hindu nationalism.
IN SPITE OF THE GODS is a vivid, illuminating look at the forces shaping India as it tries to balance the stubborn traditions of the past with an unevenly modernizing present. Edward Luce, a British journalist who covered India for many years, weaves his own keen reporting with the opinions and perceptions of Indians from all walks of life. He describes how India's two main parties inflame caste and religious tensions to win elections. He traces the relationship between the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the evolution of the world's largest experiment in representative democracy. And he reveals that India's technological revolution, which has been vilified as a threat to American prosperity, plays a tiny role in the overall Indian economy.
Deeply informed by scholarship and history, IN SPITE OF THE GODS is the one book that people will read to understand why India has a long way to go at home, and yet is on its way to rivaling both China and America.
Drawing on his own experiences and insights as the South Asia correspondent for The Financial Times, the author analyzes the conflicting political, economic, social, cultural, and religious forces that are shaping the modern nation of India and assesses the country's potential to become one of the next global superpowers. 25,000 first printing.
About the Author
EDWARD LUCE is the Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times. He was the papers South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi, between 2001 and 2006. From 1999–2000, Luce worked in the Clinton administration as the speechwriter to Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Educated at Oxford and married into an Indian family, Luce now lives in Washington, D.C.
Why has India's rise happened IN SPITE OF THE GODS?
It has long been fashionable to see religion-and particularly Hinduism-as India's greatest strength. Without in any way disrespecting one of the world's greatest-and in many ways most spectacular-religions, this book sees the Hindu caste system, which is integral to Hinduism, as antithetical to modernity. India's rise is taking place because a system of meritocracy and opportunity is beginning to creep into India's society. This is happening in spite of Hinduism and its notorious caste system, which has strangled opportunities for millions of Indians over thousands of years by confining them to hereditary occupations.
You describe India's economy as somewhat schizophrenic, please explain.
India's software, IT and the high-tech end of its manufacturing sector rival the best in the developing world and in some cases-particularly the online economy-are competing directly with companies in the US, Europe and Japan. This very dynamic and global end of India's economy is growing rapidly and is likely to continue to do so. The same is not the case for India's agricultural economy which is growing at two percent a year compared to ten percent annual growth in services. The difference between the typical Indian village which lacks electricity and clean running water, and the typical software urban setting in India, which is as sleek and seamless as anywhere, is the difference between the best South East Asia and the poorest corners of Sub-Saharan Africa.
What is India's greatest strength?
Undoubtedly its comfort level with democracy and pluralism. The practice of voting and of dissent and of freedom of expression is as ingrained into Indian society as it is in any democracy in the west. The ability to channel dissent peacefully and to change government without any hint of coup or reversal is virtually unique in the developing world. It explains why India is stable in spite of the continuation of large pockets of absolute poverty and social frustration: regardless of your status in society or your place in the economic pecking order you have an equal right in the political marketplace. There are very few grounds to doubt the continuation of Indian democracy.
And it's greatest challenges?
India's three principal challenges are:
1. Establishing peace with neighboring and nuclear-armed Pakistan. Bill Clinton rightly described the disputed state of Kashmir as the "most dangerous nuclear flashpoints in the world."
2. Overcoming the threat of Hindu nationalism, which is as destabilizing to India's prospects as Islamic fundamentalism is to Muslim societies.
3. Bringing its 700 million villagers into the modern economy that the remaining 400 million Indians are increasingly enjoying.
Can you tell us how elections are won in India?
Indian elections are complex exercises in which the outcome is highly fragmented. With 18 official languages, all the world's religions, a caste system and a mosaic of different ethnicities, India has the most complex electoral democracy in the world. That India now has twenty-party coalition governments that usually survive for the full five years is a remarkable testimony to the stability of Indian democracy. By definition, every national election in India is the largest democratic exercise in human history.
How would you compare India's economic rise to that of China?
It is slightly less dramatic. But if China did not exist the world would be talking about the Indian miracle. China has been growing at an average of eight percent a year since 1980. India has been growing at six percent a year since 1991. Qualitatively, India's economy is more high-tech and more entrepreneurial than China. But socially, China's is probably the better model since it gives vastly more people direct employment. This is because India tends to rely on the skills of its graduates to produce high-quality goods whereas China is more conventional in basing its competitiveness on lower costs rather than higher quality. In other words, India is capital-intensive economy while China's is labor-intensive. Gradually India is becoming more labor-intensive and employing more people in manufacturing. It is also becoming internationally renowned. In October 2006 Tata Steel, India's second largest steel company, took over Corus, formerly British Steel, in an $8bn deal. Every ton of steel manufactured in Britain is now Indian owned.
How do you hope India's future will unfold?
I hope India will continue to grow at its current pace and gradually emerge as an alternative non-authoritarian and pluralistic model to China as, to some extent, it already is. I hope it will show statesmanship and imagination in bringing peace to Kashmir and a settlement of some kind with Pakistan, which would be the greatest gift it could give to world stability and to fighting the war on terrorism. And I hope it will take its rightful place alongside the US, China and others as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council as the second largest country and the largest democracy in the world. Broadly speaking, India should continue on its current path but do it better and