In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India


Understanding the dynamics that are driving the rapid growth of India is a Herculean task that requires the ability to sift through and reconcile the contradictions and paradoxes that abound in this great and hugely diverse country.

Take the economy as an example. How has India defied the laws of classical development economics by creating a world-class software and services industry without having first built a strong manufacturing base as is happening in China? And why are the Indian manufacturing industries that do exist so capital-intensive when they have such a large (and low cost) labor pool to draw from?

The answers to these and many other perplexing questions can be found in this outstanding book from Edward Luce, who spent four years in the country as the South Asia correspondent for the Financial Times.

In his introduction, Luce says that the aim of the book is to provide “an unsentimental evaluation of contemporary India against the backdrop of its widely expected ascent to great power status in the twenty-first century.” He certainly achieves that goal, painting a rich and vivid portrait of the political, bureaucratic, economic, religious, and social forces that are driving the country’s development.

Luce is particularly good at describing the contradictions of India’s democratic system, which on the one hand slows down long-term decision making on critical areas such as infrastructure development but at the same time manages to ensure stability in a highly diverse and at times fractious country.

He is also harshly critical of the unnecessary suffering caused to the country’s poor by badly thought out policies and bureaucratic ineptitude and bungling. How to explain, for example, why most of the subsidized fertilizer goes to a small group of rich farmers or why the main beneficiaries of government agricultural product pricing and distribution schemes are middlemen rather than the farmers?

With this book, Luce provides a compelling picture of modern India. It is indispensable reading for anyone who is interested in learning more about “the strange rise” of the country and its future prospects.

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