more than this and the image it is trying to paint of itself as a modern, advanced democracy powering into the big league is defiled by episodes that show how far it still has to go: an urban water riot; dreary death on remote and famished farmlands; medieval clashes between caste groups vying for jobs. India’s problems are manifold. Primary education and healthcare are still widely unavailable. Large swathes of this nuclear-power nation still have no access to water or electricity. Caste-based discrimination remains rampant enough for leaders to create militant political constituencies out of those that consider themselves victimised. One such party that champions the cause of Dalits (a catch-all term for communities considered to be untouchable) rode uproariously to power in Uttar Pradesh, politically India’s most important state, in May. To ignore any of India’s many new mutinies would be to court ugly surprises. The slow burn of Naxalism, or armed ultra-leftwing rebellion, along the country’s impoverished eastern flank, from Bihar to Andhra Pradesh, probably holds in store many more terrible lessons about the pitfalls of iniquitous growth. Inequality is the key problem. People are trying to discover ways of securing their rightful share in what they are being told is a prosperous place; they are impatient and their frustration will increasingly lead them to extra-democratic resorts. There has never been any dearth of bad news from India; of late, there has been an awful lot of good news too. The truth probably is that neither describes India well enough. India is what quietly happens in between – a country living and prospering in its few unbroken, and largely unnoticed, emancipated practices: universal adult suffrage; justiciable fundamental rights; uninterrupted democracy (barring the nineteen-month aberration of the Emergency which Indira Gandhi voluntarily corrected); smooth transfer of power based on what the ballot bears. Dictator Indira readily bowed to democracy in 1977. The Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party, which propounds an idea of India fundamentally different from the liberal, secular, democratic ethos enshrined in the country’s constitution, gave up power when beaten against the run of play by a coalition headed by an Italian-born Catholic in the summer of 2004. Fernandes falls back upon a predictable, if also utterly reasonable, truism – that India is destined to glory in her divides, that that’s what makes her a mosaic rather than a monolith. The country, time and again, has affirmed the larger faiths Indians have imbued her with; in many ineffable ways, the sum of their common benefits has far outweighed their cumulated contradictions. The late John Kenneth Galbraith, John Kennedy’s ambassador to India in the formative and critical early 1960s, was bemused enough by the contrary continuum he witnessed to call India a functioning anarchy. Ramachandra Guha’s work is an absorbing explanatory note to that description. To order these books, see LR Bookshop on page 37
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