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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 29 September 2006
Edward Luce's style is clear and concise, producing a readable and informative book based on his personal experience of living in India and working as a journalist for the FT. He offers his insight into how modern India has evolved out of the policies of Gandhi and Nehru; its relationship to the rest of the world and its uneasy connection with Pakistan.

He describes how British rule introduced a bureaucracy which has developed into one with considerable power within the country; frequently to the disadvantage of the poorest in society who are unable to benefit from government interventions aimed at supporting them as funds are invariably diverted into the pockets of the burra sahibs.

He gives an illuminating account of the rise of the BJP and its influence on the Hindu-Muslim relationship. All is not quite as it seems, however, and he also describes the inter relationship of various Muslim groups and the complicated political manoeuvring between the parties that this produces.

Whether you agree with everything he writes, it is a great insight into how India is developing into a super power along with China, which will alter the balance of world power in the 21st century. If you have an interest in India and its status in today's world, this is an excellent book to invest time with.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2007
Whatever your views on his perspective, this is a well researched and, most of the time, a superbly written book. I add the clause because I felt that sometimes the detail got in the way of the flow of the prose. Some reviews have criticized Luce's use of interviews but these feel truthful; and writing from experience gives a book a depth that 'facts' along cannot.

When the book takes off in chapters 4 and 5 it is amongst the most lucid accounts I have read about India. It chimes with my experience and explains some of the progress I have seen in Delhi and how individual politicians can make a difference.

If there is any chance of a paperback version perhaps some thought should be given to some judicious editing because I feel that amidst the detail there is an absolute classic, admittedly more personal, account of modern India trying to get out.
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Edward Luce is a noted journalist for the "Financial Times" (of London). He completed this timely and authoritative work in 2006. Global power relations are changing at a remarkable pace. The economies of China and India, in particular, are ascendant, with roughly 10% annual growth rates. And as most of us in the West know, at best, our own economies are stagnant. Luce is no "parachute journalist," completing a quick two-week tour of a country with a billion plus people, and then pounding out a book. India is very much his home. He has lived there for numerous years, has traveled extensively within the country over that period, and has even married an Indian. With the decline of foreign bureaus in the journalist world - bottom line cost cutting measures - such extensive knowledge of a particular country by a foreigner becomes rarer and rarer. A significant premium should be placed on his experience, and the wisdom obtained from it. I felt my own knowledge was significantly out-of-date; it was based largely on extensive travels in country in 1971, along with A.L. Basham's The Wonder That Was India (which Luce quotes extensively), and Ved Mehta's Portrait of India (which Luce does not reference). Luce has done an excellent job of filling in the last 40 years.

The author immediately drew me in on page 01 of his preface by focusing on the squandering of opportunities for the millions of Indians who live in the villages, and remain quite poor, despite the economic growth rate since the `90's. Luce frequently quotes India's Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen on developmental issues. Luce points out in the introduction that so much of Western thinking about India over the last 250 years has been either dismissive and / or tinged by romanticism (the many cults of the "guru" who have unique access to `spiritual energy'). Luce notes that when Sen arrived at Harvard in the last `80's, every single book on India at the Harvard Coop bookstore was kept in the section titled `Religion.' Luce does much to counteract such attitudes, and render a realistic and certainly more secular portrait.

Regrettably there are a number of 1-star reviews posted; as is often the case, by people who appear never to have read the book. One stated that Luce had omitted the "villages" but in the very first chapter, "Global and Medieval," Luce focuses on precisely that issue. He calls it India's schizophrenic economy. Despite all the high-tech telecommunication advances, all too many Indians are still literally drawing their water from a village well. The next chapter, the "Burra Sahibs" (the big bosses) covers the still dominating influence of governmental officials on an Indian's daily life. Caste is a sensitive, and in its more formalized sense, a uniquely Indian phenomena. Luce describes how caste barriers are coming down, while in some areas, they remain as strong as ever. For me, one of the most informative chapters, filling in a large lacuna in my knowledge, is "The Imaginary Horse," on the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism, personified by the RSS (Tashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). The title refers to the rather inventive way that history was re-written to conform with present-day political requirements (as is done in all too many countries). The next chapter covers the Nehru-Gandhi "dynasty"; Luce quotes Salman Rushde: "dynasty to be "Dynasty" in a Delhi to rival `Dallas.'" There are more than 100 million Muslims in India, and Luce depicts their sometimes uneasy status vis-à-vis their much more numerical Hindu "cousins." Once again, Luce filled in some missing pieces for me - distant newspaper headlines of communal riots that at the time I had not paid much attention to. Luce devotes another chapter to the triangular relationship that he says will dominate events in the 21st Century: China, India, and the United States. He concludes his book re-examining the beginning: the "two" Indias, one modernizing at an impressive rate; the other stagnant village life, still the vast majority of Indians.

As a reporter, Luce has been able to interview many of the "movers and shakers" of the Indian scene, from politicians to entrepreneurs to social activists still seeking Gandhian self-reliance (swadeshi) by strengthening village life. Virtually all parts of the country are included in his account. My particular "bête noir" with journalist accounts, redundancy, is totally absent. And Luce provides many a pithy formulation that underscores one of his points. For example, in terms of judicial decisions, and military rule, as in Pakistan, he says: "In other words, when there is a tank parked outside your courthouse, you tend to go with the flow."

For Indians, and non-Indians alike, resident and visitor, and anyone who wonders how the 21st century might turn out, this erudite, balanced and comprehensive account is an essential read; 6-stars, my first such rating for a journalist.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2007
Edward Luce has written a very readable uptodate account. He has done his research and sometimes produces some interesting analysis, although he sometimes goes alarmingly far back in history to make some points. However I get the feeling he spent too much time interviewing the political and business elites, and did not really see the rise of the middle class in the towns. Hence he does not understand the true India and what makes it ticks. He makes the point that its not `the economy, stupid' that matters in India, but the politics. Actually, its not `the politics, stupid' it is the society, and he has little insight into this.

Luce makes some interesting comparisons with China and has an illuminating chapter on foreign affairs but his shopping-list of recommendations on how to put India on the right track domestically are simply laughable, and even downright arrogant, displaying a complete disregard for how the electorate might perceive any of his recommendations, eg. increasing the price of electricity and water. The now defunct and discredited Enron went bellyup in India under just such a delusion, and he, as a Financial Times journalist should know this.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2007
This is a readable work by somebody who's comfortable of competently discussing both economics and sociology at a fairly knowledgeable level, though for old hand with India there's nothing much new or original here. For someone however who knows little about modern India one could do worse than choose this book as a starting point. It discusses a wide range of issues from globalisation to religious and communal violence and the author records his conversations with some of the key players. All in all a good read but perhaps a little basic, serves more as an introduction rather than a text where great insight is to be gotten.
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on 1 January 2013
Overall a readable book and gives good insight into the ground reality of Indian life at various levels. Author's objectivity slips up however while dealing with Hindu Nationalism and BJP as he spews vitriol in the chapter on Imaginary horse. He is candid enough to admit his visceral hatred for Hindu nationalism in the last chapter though. There are also a number of gross factual errors whenever he goes back into Hindu history to substantiate his argument.
i was going to give this book 5 stars till the imaginary horse chapter messed it up big time.
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23 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 10 July 2007
The book starts out well, and offers a smattering of statistics that intrigue, as well as some background into India's history and its founding fathers so to say, including Nehru, Ambedkar, and Gandhi. Notably absent is any mention of Sardar Patel till almost 200 pages, and that too in passing. As the man most responsible for weaving the hundreds of princely states that were so cynically given the choice by the British to accede to India, Pakistan or to remain independent, into a single cohesive Indian state that we know today, his absence from the initial chapters is a small but representative instance of the book. On page 195, this is the only reference to the man who can truly be called the maker of a united India: "... forced Vallabhbhai Patel, Nehru's right-wing Home Minister..." - sort of damning the man by association with the 'right-wing'.

Parts where the book gets interesting is when he lists statistics to support his argument that India needs to modernize its cities and get beyond its romantic fixation with villages. To that point he quotes Ambedkar:

"The love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is pathetic. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness, and communalism?"

The chapter on the Indian babudom (bureaucracy) begins with this quote from Kautilya's Arthashastra:

"Just as it is impossible to know when a fish swimming in water is drinking water, so it is impossible to find out when a government servant is stealing money."

He recounts an incident that Nikhil Dey shared on the hoops that the govt servants will go through to hide their venality:

"The government officials took us to a check dam that we knew had been registered as four different dams on their spending accounts. Then they took us to the same check dam three more times by three different routes hoping we wouldn't notice it was the same one."

Shamelessness personified, our babus and netas.

Later on, on page 86 this is quite revealing in being very representative of the destructive hand of the government wherever it has fallen:

"The ancient habit of harvesting rainwater as it falls and feeding it through hundreds of channels into tanks has also disappeared. The tanks and their feeder channels were maintained by a family in the village, whose specific task was hereditary. But after independence the government said it would take charge of all irrigation to bring development to the people."

We know how 'well' those efforts have borne fruit.

So far so good. On its way to deserving 4 or 5 stars.

But, after this flurry, the book sort of degenerates into biased opinionating for the next several chapters. It reads a bit shallow, with anecdotes of interviews Luce conducted with (in)famous personalities strewn over the place, but never do these result in any insight. Like the interviews of Laloo, Amar Singh, Modi, Chandrababu Naidu, and Arun Gawli, they are meant to entertain, titillate, but never inform.

The chapters on the caste system and the BJP are where Luce lets go of any pretense of objectivity or balance. His repeated use of the word 'pogrom' to describe the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat is not only meant to be deliberately provocative, but also, ultimately, a deep insult to the real victims of actual pogroms like the Holocaust in Germany or the one in Bangladesh before the 1971 war, where an estimated 2 million Hindus were slaughtered. Despite his repeated use of the word pogrom and unbalanced ranting against Modi, he does not see it fit to mention that in the riots, as per figures released by the UPA govt (not the BJP led NDA), approximately 800 Muslims and 300 Hindus died. Hardly the statistics one would expect if one truly goes by the eloquent prose the Luce attempts to weave. His treatment of the nuclear tests by India in 1998 and the almost unanimously jubilant reaction of Indians that followed is also reduced to nothing more than the result of xenophobic manipulation of the nation by a rabidly Hindu party, the BJP. Finally, on the topic, the writing gets pathetic when he refers to the likes of Romila Thapar as one of India's most respected historians. One only wishes he had at least taken a couple of hours to browse through Arun Shourie's 'Eminent Historians', an expose (that has not been contested or disputed by even the communists, ignored - yes, but not challenged) of sorts of the corruption and lazy and at times outright wrong 'research' conducted by such historians as Thapar and Irfan Habib.

Similarly, when he describes the caste system, you feel sympathy for the lower castes and a sense of outrage at how they have been exploited over the ages. But only initially. After a few pages you get the feeling that Luce is somehow lost his sense of proportion, again, and has started ranting against everything Hindu. He cannot bring himself to find even a single thing good about the ancient Hindu, Indian culture, and ends up reducing it to a single-point agenda of frothing venom (or is it spouting) against Hinduism based on the caste system.

When writing about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his talent of trivializing things he does not like or agree with are in full display, as in his description of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:

"It looked as if Jesus were shooting a shampoo commercial."

Yet again, he paints Ravi Shankar as somehow not worthy of respect or a charlatan of sorts because of some association he holds with the RSS and because of his views that a temple should be built at the Ayodhya site. This alone is enough in Luce's opinion to condemn the man.

When describing the Congress and Sonia Gandhi, he writes with the sort of empathy that can only spring from a complete, and, or, deliberate ignorance of facts. His choice of words quite transparently betray his bias for Sonia Gandhi, unencumbered by the knowledge of her corruption and disdain for India:
"After 1991 she always looked glum and funereal." (page 185)
"It would be hard to doubt her sincerity." (Page 206)
"Her eyes were brimming with tears. She was not sobbing, but there was intense sadness in her eyes." (page 209)
These words would do a Barbara Taylor Bradford or a Mills & Boon author proud.

The facts speak a bit differently:
For close to 20 years after marrying into India's most powerful family, she did not see it proper to apply for Indian citizenship, choosing to do so only when her husband was to contest elections. Till today no one knows whether she has in fact renounced her Italian citizenship, which she is required by law to do.
When the Janata Party came to power in 1977, while Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi and her son stayed put, Sonia Gandhi took her two children and Rajiv Gandhi into hiding in the Italian embassy in New Delhi.
When Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister, her friends and brethren found themselves the beneficiaries of massive sums of money in kickbacks paid for almost every defense deal India negotiated at the time, including Bofors, HDW submarines, and more. Does the name Quatrocchi strike a bell?
In 1999 (or was it 1998), when the opportunity presented itself, without having the support of a majority of MPs, she went running to the President of India (KR Narayanan, a gentleman who proved himself more loyal to the Congress party and Sonia Gandhi than to the Indian constitution) to stake a claim to form the government. It turned out that she did not, in fact have the support of 272 MPs, and the country faced its third elections in less than three years.
In 2004, after the general elections, she went once again to the President, this time an honorable man - Dr APJ Kalam - to stake her claim to form the government, and by extension, to the post of Prime Minister of India. What transpired in that meeting is not known, but she 'renounced' her claim to the Prime Minister's post only after that fateful meeting.

So much for sincerity, honesty... But facts inconvenient to prejudices need to be overlooked, something that Luce does with disarming felicity.

Ultimately, and unfortunately so, Luce's 'In Spite of the Gods', ends up being what can only be described as the typically superficial work by someone looking to cash in on the current obsession in the West about the rise of India. For a more balanced, and also much more informative book, I would suggest Gurcharan Das' 'India Unbound'.

When I started this book, I wanted to give it 4 or 5 stars. After reading his diatribe in the middle, it went down to 1 star. After finishing the book I was inclined to give it 2 or 3, but finally decided on 2 stars because of the unforgivably one-sided stance he adopts, even in the face of easily verifiable facts.

The book had much promise - pity that it's been so wasted.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I found this book really interesting and I wholly recommend it to anyone who wants to know how Indian culture, economic growth and religion intertwine.

There are some interesting passages that really enlightened me such as why there are so few Buddhists in the land of birth of Buddha.

I was also quite amused of the Infosys culture where there are more inter community marriages in the Indian branch as compared to the Indian diaspora working within the American branch. Clearly shows that attitudes are changing in the sub continent whereas in the land of Uncle Sam, they seem to have clung on their ancestral values like tablets of stone.

This book works in more than one way; it really enlightens on so many things that we take for granted for. Despite the fact that there as many Muslims in India as in Pakistan; we hardly hear about any Muslim Indian terrorists operating in other countries like the 7/7s or 9/11s. Even the attack on The Indian Parliament was conducted by Pakistani extremists.

I emphasize on extremists because the author clearly indicates that relations between the two countries may be tense but between the two peoples, there is even more warmth.

A worthy read !!!
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2007
Edward Luce portrays a picture of modern India primarily in an anecdotal manner. While such an approach usually has certain limitations, Luce substantiates it up with well referenced sources and historical information which lead to these events.

While his position on the political spectrum is quite clear, the book usually cites a balanced view based on actual events and a thoughtful analysis follows. Luce is also very good at bringing out the irony in a lot of social and political situations, while commanding a good grasp on the problems besetting the economy and politics.

It certainly deserves much praise in itself...
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2011
In Spite of the Gods is an excellent, readable book on India. It will provide insights for even those who know the country reasonably well already.
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