Two years after publication, only two reviews of this book have been posted on Amazon.com. Both seem to be from people with a background in India. This is regrettable. Not only is this book lucid, incisive, and well written - a pleasure to read. It resonates with lessons for the world beyond Indian borders: it highlights adjacent possible developments in many modern countries.
Religion (the increasing role of religious sentiment), regionalism (the fracture of the national states in a mosaic of locally based factionalism vying for spoils form the center), and hidden repression (the increasing of state surveillance to quench opposition) are forces shaping India, but also countries where the political discourse of economic and social development as well as income distribution have been effectively silenced. India may be, in some ways, post-modernism in the making.
Democracy, secularity, and unity are the three pillars of the "Indian ideology." The book traces its intellectual origins, its establishment in the new Republic, and its evolution, or its transmogrification until today. The fresco is not flattering and the outcome, so far, less than heartening - if hidden in plain view of the international community. About one third of the country life under martial law, the basic parameters of economic and social development (education, health, women's status) are dismal, and the political system has not only become criminal and corrupt, but also semi-feudal, with dynasties taking up a good part of the political space and cooperating on the basis of collective egoism (pg. 168). All the while, it has failed to shake off the explicit dirigisme of the Raj (doubled as socialism), reinforced by the pervasive role of caste.
There have been highlights: the country has held together despite its infinite diversities. India is slowly breaking away from the rigid caste system, and it is beginning to address the issue of rural poverty (NREGA). The Supreme Court has taken on a novel role of pro-active conscience of the Constitution, and not just its interpreter (it has done so in a rather haphazard and frantic way).
Foreign relations do not figure prominently in the analysis. Understandably so. Having established itself as one of the leaders of the Non-Alignment movement, India has practiced equidistance between the blocks of the Cold War as a way to concentrate politicians' minds on solipsism (except for managing its position in respect of Pakistan). Its foreign policies were little more than vague nods to the prevailing winds of change.
The world is now at India's doors. On the one side it will no longer be able to avoid comparisons with countries like China (Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: Assessing the Economic Rise of China and India), Mexico, or Brazil. It will faced international competition from them as its comparative advantage of speaking the English language fades (e.g. IT, and engineering). Whether India will want to be a "first tier" country in a multi-polar world, or whether it will content itself in the role of a swing-vote country (as today) is anyone's guess. Many of the hidden forces that will drive the country are exposed in this excellent book - a reason more to read it carefully.