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“India after Gandhi” December 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india.

That of course is Guha’s book.

I have not read the Guha’s book and this is not a book review; this is more like quoting from a review of the book. One of the sentences from that review is rivetting.

To comprehend India’s achievement, imagine if Mexico became the 51st of the United States, followed by Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Central and South America. Add Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to give this union the Sunni-Shia mix of India. The population then represented in Congress would still be smaller and less diverse linguistically, religiously, culturally and economically than India’s. If such a state could democratically manage the interests and conflicts swirling within it, and not threaten its neighbors, the world should ask little else from it. If we were such a state, we would feel that our humane progress contributes so much to global well-being that smaller, richer, easier-to-manage states should not presume to tell us what to do.

Incredible, isn’t it !

There is an itch that you see rather commonly (even if rightly) to keep such accounts of today’s India ‘balanced’. For now though, I would rather leave you in the halo of it.

You can catch the first chapter of Guha’s book.

P. S: Each time I quote (on the blog or in conversations) foreign writers and journalists, I prepare myself to take on the abundance of unfair ( and almost racist) criticisms of writings on India by foreigners (See a blogosphere version in the comments section.) Common arguments go along India being too complex a country and hence out of reach of anyone who wasn’t born and spent as many (but not more) years in the country as the critic in question did.

Well, let me just say that for every Tom Friedman’s over-simplified India commentary, there is the Shashi Tharoor’s over-aggrandizing India cliche.



1. abhaga - December 2, 2007

Hey sharath, came here afer a long time !

One thing that I have wondered often about our diversity since coming to US is how we are diverse in such diverse ways. So even if India has hundreds of languages, I had hardly heard any of those languages till I went to college. Everybody around me spoke Hindi, look north Indian and variations were not huge. Barring few cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai, Bangalore etc., large parts of India remain homogeneous as a unit though units are quite diverse. US on the other hand is a melting pot, if you look around in bus, you will find people of such different origins and it would not be unusual to come across native speakers of as many languages as there are official languages in India. But travel from one corner of US to other and it remains the same. So US is much more diverse in a small patch but homogeneous overall.
I tend to think that managing both has its own challenges, a north Indian hospital does not have to worry about all the official languages but every US hospital has to worry about Spanish speakers, Korean speakers etc. On the other hand, it is easy to see what holds US together, you can be left in any part of US and system works exactly the same. In India, it may be hard to recognize the place at times, we do not want everybody to subscribe to some standard mold of being Indian.
And so when I hear claims about diversity, I don’t itch to make it balanced but to put it in right perspective. Yes India is perhaps as diverse as all these accounts want to convey but other countries also face similar challenges.

Anyway, hows work?

2. Sharath Rao - December 2, 2007

Hey Abhaya ! welcome back 🙂

I too have thought quite often about how diversity in India is of a different hue compared to things here. I like you point of administrative pros and cons of either compositions. Apparently someone said that India lives in its states, the centre is a mere myth (i think it was N T Rama Rao) …infact I think India should be better compared to Europe (or the other way around perhaps) – the similarities are several – continent sized, composite food, languages and ethnicities, yet a dominant (in numbers at least) religion without being a theocratic state and with reasonable separation of church (temple??!!) /state.

On the other hand, I think the states have more power in the US than India in terms of the different laws they can enact – I find it hard to imagine that on subjects as complicated as euthanasia, gay rights, abortion and income tax, different indian states having different laws. But this is not really the organic bottom up ‘diversity’ but more of the top down variety.

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