Sunday, September 4, 2011

India’s modern mutinies

Asian powerhouse or failing state? Four reports provide an assessment from the margins of an economic boom

It has often been said of the Indian government that in trying to do too much, it has done too little. Socialist planning in the decades that followed the country’s independence in 1947 created state-owned steel mills, hotels and airlines. It also brought economic isolation and stultifying regulation. Meanwhile, New Delhi had neglected more basic needs such as primary education, public hygiene and women’s health.

Fast-forward and everything would seem to have changed. The growth rate has risen sharply over the past two decades to about 8 per cent and a vast Indian middle class has enticed billions of dollars in foreign investment from western multinationals seeking new consumers. Yet the unfinished economic reforms begun in 1991 have a poor report card in areas where the government must take the lead. The majority of the population still lacks access to a toilet, the average time children spend in school is about four years, and about half of those under the age of five are severely malnourished – a record worse than that of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

India is the land of paradox. And one of its central contradictions is that this most dynamic of economies also has many characteristics of a failing state.

The shadow of inept and iniquitous government looms large in each of the four books under review. A recurrent theme of Mark Tully’s India: The Road Ahead, Siddhartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned, Arundhati Roy’s Broken Republic and Sonia Faleiro’s Beautiful Thing is that for all the progress of recent decades, the country’s growth has been far more corrupt, unequal and disruptive than it needed to be.

Full report here Financial Times

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