Stunning Growth, Stubborn Problems

Article excerpt

Stunning growth, stubborn problems A journalist looks beyond the dynamic IT sector to explore the challenges confronting India. REVIEWED BY ROBIN TATU IN SPITE OF THE GODS: The Strange Rise of Modem India by Edward Luce, Doubleday 2007,400 pages.

WITH INDIA and China grabbing the headlines in daily stories on global development, it's difficult to determine which country is making greater strides. China has emerged as the world's manufacturing giant, whose burgeoning economy already dwarves most others. Yet India has now moved beyond its early outsourcing niche to greater involvement in IT, manufacturing and research and development, with new engineering and technology centers opening apace. In addition, India has achieved tremendous economic growth without imposing state-mandated savings or rigid family-planning; it maintains a free press and independent judiciary and draws upon a rich intellectual tradition. In his new book, In Spite of the Gods, author Edward Luce suggests that as the world's largest democracy, India may demonstrate even greater potential than its neighbor, while providing an important geopolitical counterbalance to China.

With an average annual growth rate of 6 percent over the past decade and a consistent 8 percent in the past four years, the South Asian tortoise seems set to overtake the East Asian hare. Yet progress is still painstakingly slow. Despite tremendous advances, the country is hampered by weak infrastructure, outmoded regulations and crippling social inequalities. While other analysts have discussed these problems, Luce places them at the core of his book. Moving beyond the phenomenon of India's IT sector-whose workers make up a mere one-fourth of 1 percent of the total population-he offers a more comprehensive study of modern India. In Spite of the Gods provides an excellent introduction for anyone wishing to learn more about the complex dynamics of the Asian subcontinent.

As a former South Asia bureau chief for the London Financial Times who lived in India for five years, Luce writes with easy authority and an engaging style. His book is filled with interviews with key political figures, ministers and industry leaders but also with visits to local temples and villages, and discussions with farmers, teenagers, movie stars and army officers. …