Synopses & Reviews
India remains a mystery to many Americans, even as it is poised to become the world’s 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 India’s 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 India’s 600,000 villages. Yet amid all these extremes exists the world’s largest experiment in representative democracy—and 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 India’s rise, even welcoming it into the nuclear energy club, hoping to balance China’s 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.”
As the world's largest democracy and a rising international economic power, India has long been heralded for its great strides in technology and trade. Yet it is also plagued by poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and a vast array of other social and economic issues. Here, noted journalist and former Financial Times South Asia bureau chief Edward Luce travels throughout India's many regions, cultures, and religious circles, investigating its fragile balance between tradition and modernity. From meetings with key political figures to fascinating encounters with religious pundits, economic gurus, and village laborers, In Spite of the Gods is a fascinating blend of analysis and reportage that comprehensively depicts the nuances of India's complex situation and its place in the world.
Luce presents 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, this work shows that India has huge opportunities as well as tremendous challenges ahead.
About the Author
EDWARD LUCE is the Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times. He was the paper’s 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
From the Hardcover edition.